After hearing close to two hours of public testimony the previous evening, members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee narrowly approved a bill Tuesday morning allowing local communities to vote on the ability to purchase wine in supermarkets.
The final committee vote tally was 5-4.
Voting in favor of moving Senate Bill 837 along to the chamber’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee were the measure’s sponsor, Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, Memphis Democrat Reginald Tate, Tullahoma Republican Janice Bowling, Franklin Republican Jack Johnson and Clarksville Republican Mark Green.
Voting against SB837 were the committee’s Republican chairman, Ken Yager of Harriman, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, Huntington Republican John Stevens and Nashville Democrat Thelma Harper.
Immediately following the committee vote, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who presides over the Tennessee Senate, put out a message from his Twitter account declaring he was “pleased” with the committee’s actions. “A real and substantive discussion on the issue can now go forward — finally,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville.
The issue a has been around for several years but today’s vote marks the first time it was considered by the state Senate. It was also the first time any wine-in-grocery-store bill has passed any committee vote.
Before bringing the measure up for a vote, bill sponsor and Senate GOP Caucus chairman Ketron once again emphasized what he sees as the bill’s democratic principles at stake in the debate, invoking the fight for women’s suffrage and urging his colleagues on the committee to “let your people vote.”
An amendment introduced by Johnson proposing to end restrictions on package liquor stores from selling items like ice, snacks and corkscrews in communities with wine in food-stores was shot down by a 4-5 margin.
The vote on the amendment by Johnson, who serves also as the chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, seemed to foretell the bill’s ultimate demise. However, in a surprising about-face, Sen. Tate of Memphis, who voted against Johnson’s amendment, moved his name to the “aye” column for the final vote on the bill itself.
Jarron Springer, president of Tennessee Grocer & Convenience Store Association, hailed the bill’s passage and told reporters that his industry was willing to work with liquor stores and other interests on the other side of the debate.
“This is a monumental step, this has never happened before,” said Jarron, who was among those who testified in favor of the legislation on Monday. “Moving this out of committee is about getting people together and having a conversation. That’s what we’re about.”
Chip Christianson of the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, which opposes the legislation, acknowledged following the committee vote that public opinion leans toward allowing wine-sales in supermarkets. But he argued that lawmakers have a duty to go deeper than public sentiment and “sift through” complex issues.
“I would say that it is really unfortunate,” Christianson said of the vote. “I think that they, these senators, dropped the ball on their responsibilities.”
But he vowed the fight’s just getting started. “This isn’t over by any stretch,” he said. “There’s a long road ahead of us.”
The House Local Government Committee held an informational hearing on the proposed changes Tuesday afternoon similar to Monday’s Senate hearing but the house version of the bill, House Bill 610 from Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, was not scheduled for a vote. The earliest Lundberg could bring it before the committee for deliberation is next week, his office said.