2 wine bills advance in Tenn. House, Senate uncertain
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -
Two different bills that would allow wine in grocery stores each passed a hurdle in separate Tennessee House Committees Tuesday, but many questions remain for several of the groups affected by such a major change in the state's alcohol laws.
A bill introduced Tuesday morning defining the kind of retail food store that could sell wine passed a House committee later in the day.
Earlier, a separate House bill that would allow local governments to hold a public vote on the wine issue passed another committee.
Rep. Ryan Haynes said the bill he introduced defining retail food stores would include Walmart and most convenience stores.
The measure also has something in it for liquor stores who have fought the idea for years because they are only place where Tennesseans can currently purchase wine.
The liquor stores would be able to sell other items such as food, cigarettes and mixers.
Many liquor store owners said more than half of their revenue is derived from wine sales.
In a prior version of the bill, both big box stores like Walmart and smaller convenience stores had been said to be excluded from selling wine in their stores.
Under Haynes' new bill, retail food stores where wine sales would be allowed must derive at least 20% of their sales from food and be 2,000 square feet.
"Generally we have not been comfortable doing that, but we understand that it's a dance we have to do," he said.
Franklin liquor store owner Bart Quillman who attended the late afternoon session was hardly ready to stop dancing.
"There is a lot of talking, a lot of negotiation that will go on with this," he told News 2. "We are finding some things that have to be changed, we are finding some things we did not know that were going to be in there."
The group representing market owners raised some concerns as well.
A statement from the Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association (TFCA) read in part:
The question that convenience store operators are asking is "Which stores will qualify as retail food stores?" and "Will the license be so expensive and restrictive that only very large volume grocery stores will qualify?"
There is also a $2,000 annual fee per store to sell wine. That fee is 20 times higher than the current beer license fee of $100 and significantly higher then any other state. Virginia is the next highest at $400.
TFCA will work to ensure the definition of a "retail food store" is more inclusive so that smaller grocers and convenience stores can compete.
Both of the House bills now head to a finance sub-committee, possibly as early as next week.
A different wine and groceries bill is scheduled to be heard on the Senate floor Thursday, but if the various bills continue on separate paths they could be headed to a conference committee between the two chambers to resolve the differences.