Tennessee Senate Passes Supermarket Wine Bill 23-8


NASHVILLE (AP) – Local governments could hold votes on whether to allow wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores, under a bill the state Senate passed on Thursday.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro was approved on a 23-8 vote after the companion bill was revived in the House this week. Five Republicans voted against the measure, along with three Democrats.

Ketron said the bill reflects a shift away from liquor laws that been in place in the state since Prohibition.

"Things have changed in our world," he said. "The people of Tennessee want this opportunity."

The proposal would allow cities and counties to vote on grocery store wine sales as early as November, but wouldn't allow supermarkets to stock wine until at least July 2016.

The Senate version would require convenience stores to have at least 1,200 square feet to qualify for a wine sales license, while the House version would set that limit at 2,000 square feet. Under current law, supermarkets can't sell anything stronger than beer.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said he recognized that the bill is the result of a compromise to ensure its passage, but expressed disappointment that it no longer included provisions to allow beer stronger than 6.5 percent to be sold in convenience stores.

Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville said before the vote that he has sponsored a separate bill seeking to lift the cap on beer alcohol content for supermarket sales.

"There are so many tentacles on this because it affected so many people," Ketron said. "Every group that was affected gave up something."

House committees this week approved separate bills to create the referendum mechanism and to establish which stores can qualify to sell wine. The two bills are likely to be combined into a single one to match up with the Senate version.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, have been major proponents of allowing supermarket wine sales, forcing the liquor retail and wholesale industries to the negotiating table.

Harwell said House members will hammer out any differences with the Senate.

"They're trying to listen to the will of the people that elected them, and we're just trying to work out the fine details now," she said.

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