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More that 260K Tennesseans Sign Petitions to Vote on Wine in Grocery Stores

Press release from Red White and Food; September 2, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 2, 2014) – Registered voters in 80 Tennessee municipalities will have the opportunity to vote Nov. 4 in referendums to allow the sale of wine in retail food stores, the Red White and Food campaign announced today.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment for the state’s retail food stores and for their customers who want to be able to buy wine while shopping for groceries,” said Susie Alcorn, Red White and Food campaign manager. “Our goal has always been to give Tennesseans the opportunity to vote on this issue, and now they will have that chance.”

Red White and Food, its retail partners, and citizen volunteers collected a total of 262,247 signatures statewide on petitions authorizing the wine question to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot. The petition campaign began in mid-May, and the deadline for signature collection was Thursday, Aug. 21.

“Red White and Food would not have reached this important milestone without the support of our retail partners – including BI-LO, Food City, Food Lion, Kroger, Publix, Superlo Foods and Walmart,” Alcorn added. “Their dedication to collecting signatures in-store made all the difference in the success of this campaign. We’re grateful to the 262,247 Tennesseans who took the time to sign a petition and to the staffs of the state’s local election commissions who were tasked with verifying the signatures.”

Among the qualifying municipalities are Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County, Murfreesboro, the city of Memphis, Germantown, Jackson, the city of Chattanooga, Knoxville and unincorporated Knox County, and the Tri-Cities, including Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport. (A complete list of qualifying municipalities appears at the end of this document.)

“The massive amount of signatures collected during this short campaign is a testament to consumers’ desire to purchase wine where they shop for food,” said Steve Smith, president and chief executive officer of K-VA-T Food Stores/Food City, and board chairman of Red White and Food. “Our customers have been telling us for years that they want the convenience of buying wine at the grocery store. They made their voices heard in phase one of the campaign, and I hope that they will take that passion to the voting booth on Election Day. We will soon be gearing up for phase two of the campaign and getting all of our supporters to the polls.”

The campaign to place wine on retail food store shelves is not complete. Registered voters in qualifying communities must now vote on the wine referendum when they go to the polls during the general election. Early voting runs from Oct. 15 to Oct. 30, and Election Day is Nov. 4.

In the municipalities where the referendum is approved in November, retail food stores will be able to sell wine beginning July 1, 2016.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the wine in retail food stores bill into law on March 20, paving the way for the Nov. 4 referendum in qualifying municipalities. In order to be verified by the local election commissions, petitions from each qualifying municipality had to carry valid signatures equal to 10 percent of the residents who voted in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

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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.”

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Restrictions Loosened for Beer-Brewers, Retailers

Tennessee brewers can now join fellow suds-makers in surrounding states in producing higher gravity brews without the need for a specialty license under a law passed during the 2014 session.

However, due to pressure from liquor retailers — in part related to the political compromise that helped win passage of legalized wine-sales in grocery stores — non-spirits retailers and distributors won’t have the same allowances as brewers until 2017. That means consumers in search of higher quality, high gravity beers will need to continue to patronize spirits establishments.

The law, HB0047/SB0289, was sponsored by State Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and Murfreesboro Republican Sen. Bill Ketron. It altered the definition of beer and high alcohol content beer, as well as revising some of the language dealing with high gravity beers. Prior to the law taking effect today, Tennessee had the most restrictive cap on the amount of alcohol beer could contain and still be sold without a liquor license — five percent by weight, or 6.25 percent by volume. Alabama’s beer cap, on the other hand, is at eight percent by weight. Beer with an alcohol content of eight percent by weight is equivalent to 10 percent by volume.

“This will raise the cap on beer from five to eight percent, it’s going to allow brewers to sell the beer at their brewery taprooms and for off premise consumption,” said Haynes said when the House approved the measure just three days before the legislative session came to a close. “It will clarify the law that allows liquor retailers to sell high gravity beer growlers. And this will also allow high gravity beer to be sold in grocery stores.”

The bill passed the House April 14 by a vote of 72 to 12, with eight members present but not voting. It passed the Senate 22 to seven on April 10. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law May 1.

The change in the state’s definition of brewed alcoholic beverages came about as a result of the “Fix the Beer Cap” campaign, spearheaded by Linus Hall of Yazoo Brewing Company in Nashville.

The campaign to redefine beer was an extension of the successful 2013 Fix the Beer Tax campaign to change the way the state taxed its beer — from taxing it by the cost of production to taxing it by volume like other states.

Hall recently told the Nashville Business Journal that, while his brewing company had a special high gravity brewers license, it wasn’t “economical” for them to brew higher gravity beers, because the market for those beers was “so restrictive.”

Now that the market is going to open up, Hall said he plans to brew up more styles of suds.

The discrepancy between Tennessee’s beer laws and those of the surrounding states even led Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, headquartered in California, to remove Tennessee from their list of possible locations for opening a satellite brewery. Sierra Nevada instead chose Asheville, N.C., for its expansion.

But while craft beer producers are now able to brew up higher alcohol-content craft beers with less regulation, non-spirits retailers and distributors have another two-and-a-half years before they can join the party. The portions of the law affecting them won’t be in effect until January 1, 2017.

Hall told the NBJ in his interview in late June that the reason for this was that although lawmakers were supportive of the change, they didn’t want to see those changes occur any sooner than the changes from Wine in Grocery Stores.

Wine in Grocery Stores goes into effect today, as well, but only the portions of the law allowing liquor stores to stock beer, food and accessories. Liquor stores will also be able to sell high gravity beer growlers.

However, the two-year wait for the convenience to be able to purchase wine in your local grocery store instead of searching for a wine and spirits retailer may prove too onerous for some Tennessee consumers, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has mentioned that lawmakers may revisit “Wine in Grocery Stores” next year.

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MTSU Poll: Majority of Tennesseans Support ‘Wine-in-Grocery-Stores’

Press release from the MTSU Survey Group; February 28, 2013:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Tennesseans who want wine sold in grocery and convenience stores outnumber those opposed by more than 2 to 1, the latest MTSU Poll results show.

Consistent with the results of previous polling, when asked “… do you favor or oppose letting grocery, convenience and other stores that sell food in Tennessee sell wine if they are located in places that allow the sale of alcoholic beverages?”, 65 percent of Tennesseans say that they are in favor, with only 24 percent opposed; the remainder say they don’t know or refuse to answer.

Furthermore, majorities of Democrats and Republicans, evangelical Christians and nonevangelicals, and the young and the old all favor allowing wine sales in groceries, convenience stores, and other stores that sell food.

“Previous analyses have indicated important differences in support for wine sales in groceries attributable to generational, religious, and political differences,” said Dr. Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “But support really seems to have spread across the board at this point.”

The overall 2013 findings do not differ statistically from responses to the same question when asked by the MTSU Poll in spring of 2011 (69 percent favored wine sales, 17 percent opposed), or spring of 2009 (62 percent favored wine sales, 26 percent opposed).

“Overall opinion on this issue has been largely in favor of wine sales in groceries for the last four years. It has also been remarkably stable over that time considering the amount of legislative maneuvering around the issue and the associated coverage it has received in the media,” Reineke said.

Poll data were collected from Feb. 11-19 via telephone interviews of 650 Tennessee adults conducted by Issues and Answers Network Inc. using balanced, random samples of Tennessee landline and cell phones. The data were weighted to match the latest available Census estimates of gender and race proportions in Tennessee.

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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.

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Liquor Lobby Named Naughtiest to Taxpayers, Consumers by Free-Market TN Think Tank

Press Release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee, Dec. 12, 2011:

Liquor Lobby Receives Lump of Coal Award for Thwarting Wine in Grocery Stores

NASHVILLE – The Beacon Center of Tennessee (formerly the Tennessee Center for Policy Research) today announced the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee as the recipient of its 2011 Lump of Coal Award.

The Beacon Center awards this dubious distinction annually to the person or group in Tennessee who, more than any other during the past year, acted as a Grinch to Tennesseans by bah-humbugging the principles of liberty and limited government.

For the first time, the 2011 Lump of Coal Award was chosen directly by Tennesseans in an online poll. Respondents chose from a list of five finalists selected by Beacon Center staff. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers received the most votes for the not-so-coveted prize, beating out Nashville’s Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency by a single vote.

The Lump of Coal Award goes to the association for its actions to prevent grocery stores from selling wine in the state, a measure that 33 states allow and one that would benefit Tennesseans economically.

“The liquor lobby, led by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee, has used questionable tactics to scare rural Tennesseans and lawmakers into erroneously believing that allowing grocery stores to sell wine will bring about some type of booze-propelled chaos, all in an effort to protect its powerful monopoly over wine,” said Justin Owen, the Beacon Center’s president and CEO.

“Despite the fact that nearly three out of four Tennesseans want to end the Prohibition-era restrictions on wine, their calls were yet again drowned out by this formidable lobbying force. Maybe the association’s leadership can wash down its lump of coal with a nice bottle of cabernet, purchased exclusively from a liquor store, of course.”

The Beacon Center of Tennessee is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan organization committed to providing free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee. Through research, advocacy, and investigative reporting, the Center advances ideas grounded in the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government.

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MTSU Poll: Tennesseans Don’t Like Teacher Tenure; Split on Eliminating Collective Bargaining; Favor Wine in Grocery Stores

Press Release from the Middle Tennessee State University Survey Group, March 2, 2011:

Obama would lose to a Republican opponent, but his low approval rating has stabilized

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Tennesseans take a dim view of teacher tenure but show no consensus on whether to do away with collective bargaining power for teacher unions, the latest MTSU Poll finds.

Fifty-four percent of state residents choose the statement, “Tenure makes it hard to get rid of bad teachers” as most representative of their viewpoint, while 29 percent choose the alternative statement, “Tenure protects good teachers from being fired without just cause” as most indicative of what they think. Sixteen percent say they don’t know, and the rest decline to answer.

Meanwhile, 37 percent of Tennesseans favor “eliminating the ability of teacher unions in Tennessee to negotiate with local boards of education about teacher salaries, benefits and other employment issues.” But a statistically equivalent 41 percent oppose such a move, and a substantial 22 percent are undecided.

“Compared to public opinion about teacher tenure, public opinion about collective bargaining for teacher unions seem to be still taking shape in Tennessee,” said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the MTSU Poll. “The people most likely to have any opinion at all on the collective bargaining issue are also, based on other measures in the poll, the ones most likely to be politically active and politically knowledgeable. They probably are creating a framework for the debate and soon will start contending with each other for the support of those who are undecided.”

Conducted Feb. 14 – 26, 2011 by Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication, the telephone poll of 589 Tennessee adults chosen at random from across the state has an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. Full results are available on the poll’s website, www.mtsusurveygroup.org.

The poll also finds President Obama currently trailing whoever the Republican 2012 presidential nominee might be. Thirty-one percent of Tennesseans say they would vote for Obama if the election were held today, but a 48 percent plurality say they would vote instead for “his Republican opponent.” 14 percent say that they don’t know who they would vote for at this time, and 6 percent volunteer that they would vote for neither candidate.

The downward slide in Obama’s approval rating among Tennesseans seems to have leveled off, though, according to Dr. Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll.

“The president’s approval rating stands at 39 percent in Tennessee, a possible uptick from his 35 percent approval rating in our Fall 2010 poll,” Reineke said. “But, of course, he’s still down quite a bit compared to his 53 percent approval rating in the Spring 2009 MTSU Poll.”

In other findings, three in four Tennesseans considers illegal immigration a “somewhat” or “very” serious problem, and a 42 percent plurality describe as “about right” the new Arizona immigration law’s requirement that police making a stop, detention, or arrest must attempt to determine the person’s immigration status if police suspect the person is not lawfully present in the country. Another 25 percent say such a law “doesn’t go far enough,” and 28 percent say it “goes too far.”

Additionally, 55 percent characterize as “about right” the Arizona law’s requirement that people produce documents proving their immigration status if asked by police. Twenty-three percent say that aspect of the law doesn’t go far enough, and 17 percent say it goes too far.

Meanwhile, closing the Tennessee’s projected budget gap could prove politically difficult for state lawmakers.

A 52-percent majority of state residents think dealing with the budget gap will require either cutting important services (16 percent), raising state taxes (6 percent) or both (30 percent). Despite these attitudes, though, Tennesseans show little support for cuts to any of five of the state’s largest general fund budget categories. Only 25 percent of state residents favor cuts to TennCare, 14 percent favor cuts to K-12 education, 24 percent favor cuts to higher education, and 17 percent favor cuts to children’s services. Cuts to a fifth major budget category, prisons and correctional facilities, drew the most support (44 percent), but the figure is still well below a majority.

Asked about gun regulation, Tennesseans divide essentially evenly on whether laws governing the sale of guns should be kept at their current levels (43 percent) or made more strict (41 percent). Similarly, 45 percent of Tennesseans say they would support a nationwide law banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips, defined in the poll question as those that hold more than 10 bullets. But a statistically equivalent 42 percent say they would oppose such a law.

In still other poll findings:

  • Sixty-nine percent of Tennesseans favor letting food stores sell wine.
  • A 50 percent plurality think Congress should repeal the health care law.
  • Support remains high for the religious rights of Muslims.
  • Tennesseans think neither President Obama nor Congressional Republicans are doing enough to cooperate with each other.
  • More Tennesseans approve than disapprove of new governor, legislature, but many are undecided.

For over a decade, the Survey Group at MTSU has been providing independent, non-partisan and unbiased public opinion data regarding major social, political, and ethical issues affecting Tennessee. The poll began in 1998 as a measure of public opinion in the 39 counties comprising Middle Tennessee and began measuring public opinion statewide in 2001. Learn more and view the full report at www.mtsusurveygroup.org.