Gov. signs wine in grocery stores bill, so what's next?

"Great work by a lot of different people."

That's what Governor Bill Haslam had to say after a significant chapter in a more than seven-year long debate came to a close.

Around noon on Thursday, Haslam signed off on a bill that will allow for wine in some grocery stores. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jon Lundberg of Sullivan County and Sen. Bill Ketron of Rutherford County, will make way for referendums across the state where voters will be able to decide whether wine should be allowed in grocery stores in their municipalities.

"A lot of hard work coming to fruition today, and the bottom line is the winners of this, frankly, are not legislators," Lundberg said. "It's the people in Tennessee who are going to get an opportunity to have convenience."

Tennesseans could start seeing wine on grocery store shelves as early as July 2016, but there a lot of things that have to happen first.

According to Cliff Rodgers, administrator of the Knox County Election Commission, election commissions across the state are already preparing to collect petitions. The state of Tennessee has even already created a draft petition form.

Rodgers said Tennesseans must fill out their petitions 60 days before the November election is held. He said if they fail to do so, the wine initiative will not be on the ballot.

According to Rodgers, the state has already alerted officials that there are a number of places where we could see petitions happen. Those places include both the cities of Knoxville and Farragut.

If a person is looking to fill out a petition, they must receive valid voter signatures from at least 10 percent of the people in their municipality who participated in the last gubernatorial election.

In Knoxville, a petition would need about 3,363 valid signatures. In Farragut, Rodgers said the exact number has yet to be determined. He said it is likely around 800.

Rodgers said the election commission will likely have to hire at least 10 employees to deal with any petition movements that may come to Farragut, Knoxville, or Knox County. He said, at this point, there is no way to tell how much that may cost.

The supermarket chain Kroger said it is encouraged by Thursday's developments, but it admits more work is left to be done. The company said it is working with other grocery chains to come up with a strategy that will drum up support for the wine issue across Tennessee.

"We're certainly going to be working everywhere we operate in the state to make sure we get this on the ballot," said Kroger spokesperson Melissa Eads.

There were plenty of amendments attached onto the wine bill over the last two years. Under the legislation, liquor stores will also be able to sell drinking accessories within their stores as early as July 2014. Grocery stores interested in selling wine, starting in 2016, will also have to get licenses from the state's alcoholic beverage commission.

And, then before July 2017, no grocery store will receive a license to sell wine if it's within 500 feet of a store that already has a liquor license.

"Often times a liquor store would be in a strip mall where it was anchored by a grocery store and they were concerned that they would instantly lose a huge amount of their business, which is potentially true," Lundberg said. "So, we gave them that trigger in there which allows liquor stores to tell the grocery store, 'you can't sell wine'. At the same time, it also gave the grocery store a trigger to then tell the liquor store, 'you can't sell anything else', but liquor."


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