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Ramsey Expects Passage of Wine-in-Groceries

Last session’s ‘debacle’ may actually help bill’s chances in 2014, says Senate speaker

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said this week he believes the time is ripe for changing Tennessee law to allow for the sale of wine in grocery stores.

“I think it will pass the Senate,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville, speaking to reporters in his office Wednesday. “I feel pretty confident it will pass both houses in some form.”

Supporters of allowing wine-sales in grocery stores have in the past expressed optimism that they were on the verge of legislative success only to see their efforts stall in tight committee votes. But Ramsey anticipates things will be different in 2014.

Ramsey, the speaker of the Tennessee Senate, said lawmakers who were “sitting on the fence” last year are likely to be leaning toward passage now as a result of “the debacle that happened in the House,” where Local Government Chairman Committee Matthew Hill, R-Jonesboro, unexpectedly voted to kill the legislation after earlier indicating his support.

Ramsey said Hill’s unanticipated “no” vote “actually helped the cause” because afterward undecided lawmakers “realized that the general public is for this.”

Polling by Middle Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt has shown strong popular support for wine in grocery stores.

Ramsey also said he’s heard liquor store owners “are sitting down right now to determine what they can live with, because they know that it is going to pass.” In years past, liquor-store proprietors have been unwilling to negotiate on the issue because they knew they had the votes to kill any attempt to alter the status quo, Ramsey said.

The lieutenant governor said he expects the mechanism for legalizing wine-sales in grocery stores that the Legislature endorses will be a local jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction referendum approach in places that already allow liquor-by-the-drink sales.

“Pretty much everybody has conceded that’s the best way to go about it,” said Ramsey. “In theory, you’d think that if (a city or county) had liquor-by-the-drink it’d pass on referendum anyway.”

“That brings on a few extra votes (in the Legislature) by doing it that way — a cushion,” Ramsey added.

Alex Harris and Mark Engler contributed to this report.

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