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VOL. 129 | NO. 56 | Friday, March 21, 2014

Haslam Signs Supermarket Wine Bill Into Law

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

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NASHVILLE (AP) – After years of legislative debate, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday signed a law to allow supermarket wine sales in Tennessee.

Haslam was joined by the measure's sponsors, as well as the Senate and House speakers, who helped the passage of the legislation by bringing different parties to the table to discuss it.

"I commend my legislators for their hard work," said House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. "Together we all worked to make this a success today."

While the concept of supermarket wine sales has broad public support according to various polls, the measure had failed in several consecutive legislative sessions amid opposition from liquor wholesalers and package store owners.

Sen. Bill Ketron, one of the measure's main sponsors, called the signing an historic event in Tennessee.

"There's an old saying that patience is a virtue," said the Murfreesboro Republican. "I can honestly say that I have acquired that virtue over the last seven years."

The legislation grants authority to cities and counties that have package stores or liquor-by-the-drink sales to hold referendums. And even after that, the earliest wine could be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores would be in the summer of 2016 – or a year later if they are located near an existing liquor store.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters later Thursday that lawmakers may consider moving that date up during the next session.

"I predict that something may happen on that," said the Blountville Republican. "I just think that people won't understand why the grocery stores agreed to a year and a half delay."

The measure also allows liquor stores to begin selling items other than booze.

Currently, supermarkets and convenience stores can sell beer containing up to 6.5 percent alcohol by volume. Anything stronger can be sold only in package stores, which can't sell anything beyond booze and lottery tickets.

Haslam's stance on the issue has warmed since the 2010 governor's race, when he expressed reservations about the legislation that would directly affect the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain owned by the Haslam family.

He remained neutral on the issue while it was before lawmakers, but had pledged not to block its enactment once it passed.

"I've always said that I would do whatever the will of the Legislature is on this thing; and if they passed it that I would sign it," he told reporters after Thursday's event.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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