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Senator changes mind, could bring back wine in grocery stores bill

4:29 PM, Apr 2, 2013   |    comments
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Legislation to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores isn't quite dead yet.

A tie vote in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday morning initially indicated that bill had failed for the year. But a spokesman confirmed later in the day that Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, who abstained on that vote now wants to vote in favor of the measure after receiving assurances that it would no longer include a provision allowing Sunday liquor sales.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has said he wants to the measure to clear all of his chamber's committees this year. But he has said he would keep it from receiving a full floor vote unless the House version that failed in committee is revived this year or next.

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By Chas Sisk, Tennessean

Wine-in-grocery stores legislation was dealt a final blow for the year Tuesday, but not before lawmakers debated many other, major changes to Tennessee's liquor laws that will be needed if the measure is ever going to pass.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee held up a measure Tuesday that would have let supermarkets sell wine after several members balked over concessions being offered to liquor stores. The committee vote was likely the last for the bill this year.

A major hang-up appeared to be an amendment that would have let liquor stores open on Sundays.

"I thought we had a bill to allow wine to be sold grocery stores that I said I'd vote for," said state Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville. "Now we have a bill to open liquor stores on Sunday. I won't vote for that."

The measure's sponsor, state Sen. Bill Ketron, offered to strike the language, but that was not enough to win over skeptics.

Senate Bill 837 was held in committee on a 5-5 vote. Supporters had hoped for a sixth vote in favor of the measure that would have sent it to the full Senate.

"We should go ahead and take some definitive action, to send a signal to our constituents that we value their input," Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said. "This may not be completely, precisely correct, yet, but I think it's getting there."

Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, said he was happy with the progress the bill made this year. Lawmakers have filed wine-in-grocery stores legislation for decades, but until this year, no committee in recent memory had voted for the measure.

This year, a Senate committee and a House subcommittee did so. It failed in both chambers by close margins.

"I think there's been huge strides," said Springer. "Overall, it's a very positive year, but it's a result-driven world. Ultimately, we want to see this pass."

Even before Tuesday's vote, the measure had little chance of passing this year. The House Local Government Committee voted the bill down last month, and Republican leaders in that chamber have expressed little interest in reviving the legislation.

Senators nonetheless have pressed ahead with their version, hoping to set the stage for next year's debate if they could not convince their House counterparts to reconsider. In recent weeks, senators have suggested extensive revisions to Tennessee's liquor laws, perhaps the biggest changes since lawmakers approved sales of liquor by the drink in the late 1960s.

In addition to Sunday sales, lawmakers discussed letting liquor stores sell items other than alcohol. Another measure would lift a rule barring liquor store owners from owning more than one store.

But the concessions were not enough to bring liquor store owners to the table, Springer conceded.

"When you're compromising with yourself, you're not really compromising," he said.

Contact Chas Sisk at 615-259-8283 or csisk@tennessean.com. Ask him a question on Twitter @chassisk.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Legislation to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores has hit another road block.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee voted 5-5 on Tuesday to keep the measure from advancing. The vote came after House leaders said they didn't want to reconsider the companion bill that earlier failed by a single vote.

Republican Senate sponsor Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro has said he wants to get the bill out of the committee in case the situation changes in the House.

Both Republican and Democratic Senate members of the Republican-sponsored bill said they didn't see a need for it to advance if the House doesn't plan to bring it up again.

Ketron told reporters after the hearing that he's not giving up on the bill and is checking to see if the committee can reconsider its action.

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