A controversial bill that would open doors for grocery stores across Tennessee to sell wine could see new life this legislative session, even though a House subcommittee said "no" to it earlier this week.
A newly-formed Senate sub-committee met with stakeholders on Thursday to hammer out some amendments to the "wine in grocery stores" bill in an effort to make it fair for all food and liquor retailers. There's nothing further scheduled in the House for now. But, opportunity for that to change remains.
"I believe it's dead at this point," said Rep. Dale Carr (R-Dist. 12).
"Nothing is dead in Nashville until we leave,' said Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Dist. 11)
"The final chapter of this story hasn't been written," said Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Dist. 2).
Differing opinions are stopping some lawmakers from pushing forward on an effort to get the bill passed; others are forging ahead, business as usual.
"This is the first year we've ever put it to a vote in the senate, and we got it through State and Local," explained Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Dist.13)
He authored the "wine in grocery stores" bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. John Lundburg (R-Dist. 1)
"When it comes to liquor-by-the-drink, and retail package stores, it's always been at the local level, letting the people decide either way," said Sen. Ketron.
Giving the people a choice about where wine is sold is what Sen. Ketron said is his reason for putting up the bill.
Rep. Faison shares Sen. Ketron's belief, "It's been made to be a very complicated issue and it's not."
Other lawmakers in both chambers consider where wine is sold as a complicated issue.
"It would allow grocery stores to sell wine on Sundays, holidays, and after retail package stores by state law are forced to closed. That, to me, seems unfair," said Sen. Overbey.
"We have only a very few number of package stores in the county, and they're located in Gatlinburg. All those people came to me and asked me to be against it to sustain their business," said Rep. Carr, who sits on the House sub-committee that, earlier this week, voted the bill down, possibly killing it.
Sen. Ketron said there are already several amendments on the table that will address concerns "to the state's antiquated laws," like those shared by Sen. Overbey and Rep. Carr. The amendments include: allowing high-gravity beer to be sold on store shelves next to wine, allowing liquor stores to sell things like mixers and corkscrews, and creating one license for distributors to sell both beer and wine to food and package stores.
However, the House is allowed to resurrect the bill. A member of the prevailing vote, in this case the "no's," must request a second look. House Speaker Beth Harwell would have to give the green light. At this point, however, it's anyone's guess what will happen.
"That's part of politics, so you just have to adjust to it and move on. I know the direction of my bill in the Senate, and I'm sure they'll adjust themselves over there in the House," said Sen. Ketron.
Sen. Overbey said this bill is one of the top three issues he's heard about from his constituents, both pro- and against, so far this session, "I still question whether this is the right overall policy for our state."
Sen. Overbey is on a committee that gets the Senate bill on March 19, 2013. But, that depends on Sen. Ketron's next move. The bill has already been deferred three times.
If the House doesn't bring the bill back by the end of the session in 2014, lawmakers must start over, even if the Senate reaches a floor vote that passes.