NASHVILLE (AP) — A years-long effort to allow wine to be sold outside of Tennessee liquor stores easily cleared what was expected to be its toughest hurdle Thursday when the state House overwhelmingly approved the measure.
The bill would grant authority to cities and counties that currently have package stores or liquor-by-the-drink sales to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores.
Debate lasted one hour and 15 minutes, with opponents raising the specter of Nancy Pelosi, crony capitalism and the undue influence of the liquor lobby to try to dissuade colleagues from voting for the bill. But in the end, those pleas were largely ignored and the measure passed on a 71-15 vote.
“Members have heard from their constituents, and the constituents overwhelmingly wanted the opportunity to buy wine in grocery stores,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville and a key proponent of the bill, said after the vote. “But members really wanted to protect local businesses as well.”
The measure would allow for local votes to take place as early as this fall, but would not allow supermarket wine sales until at least July 2016. Supermarkets located within 500 feet of an existing liquor store could have to wait an additional year.
The bill’s main House sponsor, Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol, said that delay is necessary to give liquor stores a chance to prepare for the change.
The Senate, which passed its version 23-8 last month, is expected to go along with minor changes in the House bill and send the measure for the governor’s signature.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam was not a supporter of allowing wine sales in supermarkets or convenience stores when he was running for office in 2010. But Haslam has said he will defer to the Legislature on the issue.
Under current law, supermarkets and convenience stores can sell beer containing up to 6.5 percent alcohol by volume. Anything stronger can only be sold in package stores, which can’t sell anything beyond booze and lottery tickets.