2 top lawmakers support public vote for wine in grocery stores
Reported By Heather Jensen, Reporter - bio | email
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -
Wine in grocery store supporters are seeing the glass as half full after indirectly getting the support of two of the state's top lawmakers.
Over the weekend, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey came out in support of a public referendum.
"We've always said this is about the consumer for us," said Jarron Springer.
Springer is the president of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association (TGCSA). The organization has fought for wine in grocery stores for five years, most recently through the Red White and Food Campaign. The campaign promotes education and action among consumers.
According to Springer, as much as 70% of Tennesseans want access to wine in grocery stores.
"Our customers have asked us. Our signs say 'Where is the wine?' That's something store managers get all across the state everyday," he said. "A public referendum in areas, we think, would see favorable votes on that."
The proposal supported by the speakers of the House and Senate would allow voters in each county to decide on wine sales through a referendum.
The support of Harwell and Ramsey is encouraging, but the debate on wine sales is expected to continue. Before a referendum reaches the voters, the idea must pass through legislative committee.
"All bills go through committees, and sometimes they get bottled up," he said. "That's where our bill's been for the last few years."
Springer, TGCSA, and other supporters have long touted customer convenience and millions in state revenue as reasons to allow wine sales in grocery stores.
Opponents, including the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association (TWSRA), continue to argue that those sales would be bad for small businesses and public safety.
The TWSRA Web site states, "Alcohol is not something you play with. It is not food or clothing. It must be tightly regulated and controlled."
Under current state law, any bottle stronger than beer must be purchased at a liquor store. Tennessee has more than 500 locally owned liquor stores.