Business and Economy Featured NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Many Wine Measures Making Ballot Across TN

Tennessee voters in 80 local jurisdictions across the state will have their say in November on whether or not to legalize wine sales at local grocery stores.

The election will cap an historic year for advocates of localizing control of wine sales. For years they’ve been pressing the state Legislature to ease a Tennessee-wide mandate that only liquor stores can sell wine. Legislation passed overwhelmingly in both the state House and Senate this year to grant voters in jurisdictions that already permit liquor-by-the-drink to authorize wine sales in certain retail outlets besides liquor stores.

Supporters of the measures had to gather signatures from 10 percent of voters in their communities by Aug. 21 to force referendums. Overall 262,247 signatures were gathered across the state by the campaign.

Susie Alcorn, who’s managing the wine-in-supermarkets ballot push for the grocery-industry backed group, Red White and Food, indicated in an email that supporters of the measures are in high spirits. “Our goal has always been to give Tennesseans the opportunity to vote on where wine can be sold in their communities. And now we know that 80 communities will get that opportunity in November.”

Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, the Senate sponsor of the wine-in-groceries bill, said he “was a little nervous” as the signature-gathering deadline was approaching, when there were still a few big municipalities, like Nashville and Memphis, that hadn’t collected enough names to get a measure on the ballot.

“There were several cities I had concern over, but it appears now that they have qualified,” Ketron said Friday. “People will have an opportunity come November to say yes or no.”

Even though a local measure might passes this year, grocery stores won’t be able to sell wine before July 2016. However, under the new law, liquor stores have been freed to sell more products in the interim.

Ketron suggested that while liquor store-owners have in the past been “violently opposed” to sharing retail wine markets, they do appear to be taking full advantage of the two-year window the legislation granted. They’re becoming “convenience stores on steroids,” he said.

State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, the legislation’s House sponsor, told TNReport Friday that getting wine into grocery stores is a three-part process, and the second part — getting the proposal on the ballot — has gone “really well.” The first part of the process was getting it through the General Assembly.

“No. 3 is exactly what should happen — we give voters the opportunity to say whether they want to have wine in grocery stores and food retail stores in their municipality,” Lundberg said. “Now we’re set for November.”

Press Releases

Haslam Creates Task Force on Sentencing, Recidivism

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 14, 2014:

Group to develop legislative and policy recommendations

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety.

In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. The creation of a task force is the next step in that collaboration.

“We have put a strong emphasis on addressing some of our state’s toughest safety challenges head on, and the Public Safety Subcabinet is doing great work,” Haslam said. “This task force is a next step in making sure we have a comprehensive approach to public safety in Tennessee. I am grateful to the Tennesseans who have agreed to dedicate their time to these issues, and I look forward to their recommendations.”

Members of the task force include:

  • John Campbell, criminal court judge, Memphis
  • John DeBerry, state representative, Memphis
  • James Dunn, district attorney general, 4th judicial district
  • Tim Fuller, sheriff, Franklin County
  • Bill Gibbons, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • Mark Gwyn, director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Kim Helper, district attorney general, 21st judicial district
  • Torry Johnson, district attorney general (retired), Nashville
  • Brian Kelsey, state senator, Germantown
  • William Lamberth, state representative, Cottontown
  • Linda Leathers, chief executive officer, The Next Door
  • William B. Lee, chief executive officer, Lee Company of Tennessee
  • Jon Lundberg, state representative, Bristol
  • Mark Luttrell, mayor, Shelby County
  • Becky Duncan Massey, state senator, Knoxville
  • Gerald Melton, public defender, 16th judicial district
  • Richard Montgomery, chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Seth Norman, criminal court judge, Nashville
  • Bill Oldham, sheriff, Shelby County
  • David Rausch, chief of police, Knoxville
  • Derrick Schofield, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • John Stevens, state senator, Huntingdon
  • Blair Taylor, president, Memphis Tomorrow
  • D. Kelly Thomas, court of criminal appeals judge, Knoxville
  • Doug Varney, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Amy Weirich, district attorney general, Shelby County
  • Verna Wyatt, executive director, Tennessee Voices for Victims

The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years. An examination will ensure that the structure is in line with the variety and severity of criminal behavior. Establishing an effective set of sentencing laws can resolve inconsistencies and avoid discrepancies that compromise public safety.

The task force will receive assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Vera staff will conduct data and policy analysis; identify expertise and resources to support the work of the task force; facilitate meetings and assist in the development of the task force recommendations.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a national, independent, non-partisan justice policy and research organization based in New York. Vera has decades of experience partnering with state and local governments across the United States to improve justice systems.

The task force will submit its recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet by June 2015.

The subcabinet was created by Haslam in 2011 and launched a multi-year public safety action plan in 2012. The group includes commissioners of the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Correction, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Health and Military, along with the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Parole, directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Law Enforcement Training Academy and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Press Releases

Ketron, Lundberg File Legislation to Allow Referendum Vote on Wine Sales

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; January 31, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, filed legislation today that would let Tennesseans vote on whether to allow the sale of wine in retail food stores via a local referendum.

The referendum bill, if passed, would give municipalities in those communities that currently allow retail package stores, liquor-by-the-drink establishments or both to hold a referendum on the sale of wine in retail food stores during the next general election. The authorization law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014 and would allow a referendum to be held after that date.

“Rep. Lundberg and I strongly believe that Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to vote on this issue,” Sen. Ketron said. “Currently, municipalities decide whether to allow retail package stores or liquor-by-the drink in their communities, so it makes sense to also take the issue of where to sell wine to the voters.”

In order to place the referendum on the ballot, a petition must be presented to the county election commission where the referendum is to be held. The petition must include signatures from 10 percent of the county’s population that voted in the last gubernatorial election. The legislation as written provides the exact ballot question that will be asked of voters.

“Tennessee loses a significant amount of revenue to our border states,” Rep. Lundberg said. “My constituents in Bristol will tell you that they often cross the state line to buy groceries, gasoline and other household necessities. Giving Tennessee’s retail food stores the ability to sell wine will make up for some of that lost revenue and add millions to our state’s coffers.”

Thirty-six states, including six of Tennessee’s border states, allow the sale of wine in retail food stores. Kentucky will soon join the list due to a recent federal court ruling which deemed its liquor laws unconstitutional. According to the Tennessee Fiscal Review Committee, state and local revenues will increase by millions of dollars if consumers are allowed to purchase wine where they shop for food. The fees paid by retail food stores’ wine licenses will cover the cost of additional Alcoholic Beverage Commission staff members.

The legislation will require any retail food store that sells wine to participate in the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s Responsible Vendor Program, which requires retailers’ employees to complete training on the responsible sale of alcoholic beverages. Retail food stores already practice mandatory carding, regardless of the customer’s age or how old he or she might appear to be.

Sen. Ketron and Rep. Lundberg believe that one of the more important pieces of the legislation is the requirement that all retail package stores participate in mandatory carding and take part in the Responsible Vendor Program. Liquor stores are currently exempt from these requirements under current state alcohol laws. This change would allow for uniform treatment of alcohol sales, regardless of where they occur.

The referendum legislation has the support of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association and the Tennessee Retail Association. The state’s retail food store industry employs an estimated 70,000 Tennesseans and remits hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, real, personal, gross receipts, and Tennessee franchise and excise taxes. Retail food stores support the communities they serve through millions of dollars in annual contributions, countless food donations, and volunteer service to nonprofit organizations, foundations, schools and hunger relief programs.

Liberty and Justice News

Few Fined for Texting Behind the Wheel

Tennessee lawmakers outlawed texting while driving more than two years ago. At the time, predictions were that 3,650 people a year would end up getting pinched thumbing their noses at the law while they thumbed away at their hand-held communication devices.

This year, Tennessee Highway Patrol has issued only 174 citations.

Although state officials say they don’t know how many local police citations have been written up, lawmakers who drove the bill through the Legislature say that despite the lack of tickets issued, they still believe the new law has been a success, and not a solution in search of a problem.

“I think law enforcement is beginning to figure out how to enforce it now, and it is difficult, but I think you’re going to see more enforcement as we move on,” said Chairman Jim Tracy who carried the bill in the Senate and runs the chamber’s Transportation Committee.

In 2009, lawmakers approved the texting and driving ban under the assumption it would also collected some $41,600 in fines through the up to $50 per ticket fee.

But in 2010, the state only collected $2,010 in state and county-issued citations, drastically below the state’s original estimates. THP issued 171 citations that year.

Officials who hand off such projections to the Legislature admitted earlier this year they overestimated the number of citations that would be issued for texting and driving in Tennessee.

The new law has yet to cover the price of implementation, which cost taxpayers $10,500 in programming changes to departmental systems required to enforce and track violations of the ban.

“Despite the challenges, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is and continues to strictly enforce this law,” wrote Department of Safety Spokeswoman Dalya Qualls in an email. “It is our hope that the prohibition of texting while driving in Tennessee, along with enforcement and education, will help alter the behavior of drivers around the state.”

The law bans sending a written message on a cell phone or other electronic communications device while the vehicle is in motion, punishable with a Class C misdemeanor which is limited to an up to $50 fine, although the state projected the average fine would be $15. Although the vehicle is in motion, the violation is ranked as non-moving and is not marked on a driver’s record.

The number of vehicle crashes involving cell phone use is on the rise. In 2007, the state counted 577 phone-related crashes, which has climbed to 918 last year, however the department statistics are unclear as to how many of those crashes included texting verses talking.

Rep. Jon Lundberg, who sponsored the ban in the House, said he’s torn between whether the low numbers are a result of a lack of enforcement or greater public awareness that texting while driving is prohibited.

“In most of our nature, we want to do things that are legal,” the Bristol Republican told TNReport. “I think most folks know that texting while driving is illegal in Tennessee.”

Thirty-five states currently ban texting while driving. Another nine have banned talking on handheld phones behind the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this month recommended Congress and state legislatures consider a ban on using cell phones, including hands-free devices, while driving.

But apparently there’s little immediate desire to jump on the next bandwagon and try to legislate cell phones out of Tennessee drivers’ hands.

“Talking on the phone and texting are different,” said Tracy, R-Shelbyville. “You’re doing a running conversation while you’re texting and you’re not concentrating on driving, where you can talk on the phone and keep your eyes up and look at the road. So I don’t see a movement to ban telephones yet.”

Education Featured News

House Approves Collective Bargaining Limitations

The Tennessee House and Senate have approved competing plans overhauling the state’s collective bargaining laws.

But both chambers’ leaders believe they’ll ultimately end up banning unions from negotiating teachers’ labor contracts once everything is said and done.

“I think the vote today indicated that we can get it passed if it’s reasonably drawn and reasonably written. I think we have the opportunity to pass it here,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters after she presided over a grueling four-hour debate on her chamber’s floor.

On a 59-39 vote, majority Republicans moved to scale back teachers’ collective bargaining powers.

Opponents included all the House Democrats, one independent and five Republicans. They pitched more than two dozen alternatives to weaken or derail the bill, but only a few tinkering with technicalities passed — the rest were either tabled or later withdrawn.

One opponent to SB113/HB13o, Democratic Rep. Mike McDonald of Portland, wheeled out an easel and poster boards to help illustrate what he thinks collective bargaining has accomplished to aide teachers beyond helping them get better contracts. The system has allowed them to pressure school boards into purchasing additional “instructional supplies” and other educational materials for their classrooms, he said.

A band of Republicans railed against the bill, too. The GOP caucus members who voted against SB113/HB130 included Reps. Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, Mike Harrison of Rogersville, Dennis “Coach Roach of Rutledge, Dale Ford of Jonesborough and Bob Ramsey of Maryville.

Independent Kent Williams also voted against the anti-collective bargaining legislation. The former state House speaker from Elizabethton hinted during the floor debate that the bill was no more than “political payback” because the Tennessee Education Association gives dramatically more money in campaign contributions to the Democratic Party than they do the GOP.

Republicans maintained that their efforts were solely about improving education in Tennessee, and that ultimately everyone — teachers, students and taxpayers — would benefit from loosening the union’s grip on policy and personnel discussions.

GOP lawmakers said they believe the TEA has become a force of obstructionism in education reform discussions over the years, and that the process of collective bargaining between a school board and a single employee organization to the exclusion of all others thwarts input and exchange of new ideas.

“We have allowed a professional organization to hijack education in our state for their own agenda,” said Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican.

Far from being an “attack on teachers,” as opponents of the legislation have painted GOP efforts for months this session, SB113/HB130 represents “the most empowering legislation I’ve seen in a long time for teachers,”said Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.

Eliminating collective bargaining and allowing school boards to consider other viewpoints and voices when drafting new contracts for education professionals “will help (teachers) succeed,” said Lundberg.

Under the House proposal, teachers unions would no longer be able to negotiate salaries, merit pay, use of grant funding, teacher evaluations, personnel decisions along with policies relating to special education programs like virtual school districts.

Unions would, however, still be able to hammer out issues like benefits and staffing decisions.

Powerful Senate Republicans though have said all along they will accept nothing less than a complete repeal of the 1978 Education Professionals Negotiations Act, which mandates that school districts negotiate with a recognized teachers union.

Not only would the Senate prefer no mandate to collective bargaining, but they’d rather teachers and unions “collaborate” with school districts on issues they want to debate on — but ultimately leave those policy decisions entirely up to the school board.

The rest, they say, they’re happy to compromise on.

So what happens now?

The two chambers will likely play a short game of legislative ping-pong where the Senate rejects the House version of the collective bargaining overhaul then the House turns down the Senate version.

Then speakers from both chambers will name three lawmakers to represent the chamber in a conference committee, essentially a compromise group meant to hash out the differences between the two bills.

Harwell said she’d consider naming Education Chairman Richard Montgomery of Sevierville, bill sponsor Debra Maggart of Mt. Juliet and Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville to the committee. Although she will make the committee assignments later in the week, it’s unclear whether she’ll swap any of those members for a Democrat as conference committees traditionally included a member of the minority party.

Press Releases

Wine-in-Grocery-Store Advocates: Loosening Regs Would ‘Uncork New Jobs’

Press Release from the campaign to allow wine sales in retail food stores supported by the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, Tennessee Farm Winegrowers Association, Tennessee Retail Association and The Wine Institute ; Feb. 2, 2011:

Wine sales in retail food stores would create up to 3,500 jobs; Economic impact study also finds state and local revenues would increase

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Passing legislation to allow wine sales in retail food stores would bring new jobs and revenue to Tennessee, a new economic impact study finds.

The analysis by Stonebridge Research Group projects Tennessee’s overall wine market will grow by 25-55 percent if the law passes. That level of growth would create between 1,597 and 3,513 Tennessee jobs.

Opening the wine market to retail food stores also would generate anywhere from $19.0 million to $38.2 million in taxes and license fees for local and state governments. The entire report is available at

Gov. Bill Haslam and leaders in the General Assembly repeatedly have said job creation and addressing the state’s financial challenges are top priorities.

“We are preventing Tennesseans from getting much-needed jobs if we don’t pass this bill,” said Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association. “The substantial revenue generated by this legislation doesn’t require a tax increase or an incentive to spur private investment.”

In addition to job creation and tax revenue, Stonebridge researchers analyzed the impact that increased competition for wine sales would have on liquor stores.

Existing liquor stores could see a 5-28 percent reduction in sales volume in communities most likely to buy wine, according the report. Between 104 and 597 liquor store jobs would be vulnerable, but it is unreasonable to assume that all of these jobs would be eliminated.

“The net impact is about 1,000 to 3,000 new jobs for Tennesseans,” Springer said.

During the session Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) will reintroduce legislation that would allow wine sales in Tennessee retail food stores.

The proposed legislation recommends changes that benefit liquor stores and their revenue, including:

· Owning multiple stores

· Selling stores to out-of-state companies

· Offering wine tastings in liquor stores

· Providing alcohol to non-profit events free of charge (sponsorships)

· Selling additional items associated with alcoholic beverages, including glasses, corkscrews, ice, mixers, etc.

“Liquor store owners deserve an opportunity to compete in the new market,” Springer said. “It’s up to them to come to the table.”

The Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association commissioned Stonebridge Research Group, which specializes in the wine industry, to conduct the study.

The association also is a supporter of Red White and Food, the campaign that backs legislation that would allow retail food stores to sell wine. More than 25,000 Tennesseans have become Red White and Food members by signing up at