By Josh Brown | The Tennessean
A federal court ruling against a Kentucky law prohibiting wine and liquor sales at grocery stores could energize efforts to loosen similar regulations in Tennessee, business groups said Tuesday.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II found the neighboring state's law unconstitutional by preventing grocery and convenience stores from selling liquor and wine but allowing other retailers to do so. The judge said the 70-year-old law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association, said the ruling in Kentucky should serve as a "wake-up call to legislators that these state laws do need to change."
Despite the ruling, Springer said it's unlikely his group would take the state to court as business groups did in Kentucky. That's because the neighboring state explicitly prohibits grocery stores from selling liquor -- the source of its constitutional problem -- while Tennessee simply restricts liquor and wine stores from selling other products.
Still, one more border state potentially allowing wine sales in grocery stores bolsters his group's case as it lobbies for legislative changes, Springer said.
"Obviously that does impact any state that is starting to take a look at state laws and how they're written," he said. "It would be the sixth state of the eight that border us that allow these types of sales. Tax dollars are going to leave our state from our northern border and go up there."
Josh Hammond, president of The Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association, said it's too early to tell what impact the ruling will have on the debate in Tennessee, where liquor sellers have been battling efforts to loosen restrictions for years.
"There's no question that it concerns me," Hammond said. "The big thing is that anything that happens at the state level, it does have repercussions throughout the whole country. And states do take notice of this."
Hammond, who co-owns a liquor and wine store in Memphis, refuted the idea that the ruling might result in luring Tennessee residents, and their money, to Kentucky grocery stores.
"If they want to scream about people leaving the state of Tennessee to go shopping, that is absolutely not the case on this side of the state," he said.
Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who has sponsored previous legislation that would loosen liquor laws, was heartened by the Kentucky ruling. He plans to introduce a bill once again in the next session.
"I think that sends a huge signal for the possible passage for legislation here in Tennessee," he said.
Gregory A. Hall of the Courier-Journal contributed to this report. Contact Josh Brown
at 615-726-5964 or email@example.com.