Supermarket wine proposal seeks local referendums - WSMV News 4

Supermarket wine proposal seeks local referendums

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Supporters of a bill to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine announced Thursday they want local referendums to decide the issue.

State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, are the main sponsors of the measure that would end the exclusive right of liquor stores to sell wine in Tennessee.

"Rep. Lundberg and I strongly believe that Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to vote on this issue," Ketron said. "Currently, municipalities decide whether to allow retail package stores or liquor-by-the drink in their communities, so it makes sense to also take the issue of where to sell wine to the voters."

Thirty-six states, including six of Tennessee's border states, allow the sale of wine in retail food stores.

"Tennessee loses a significant amount of revenue to our border states," Lundberg said. "My constituents in Bristol will tell you that they often cross the state line to buy groceries, gasoline and other household necessities. Giving Tennessee's retail food stores the ability to sell wine will make up for some of that lost revenue and add millions to our state's coffers."

Other details of the measure include:

* Mandate that grocery stores participate in Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission's Responsible Vendor Program, which requires retailers' employees to complete training on the responsible sale of alcoholic beverages.

* Bill only allows 18 percent alcohol content wine or less to be sold at grocery stores.  It would continue to limit sales of high-alcohol beer and fortified wines to liquor stores.

Ketron said he will move to have the bill heard in the Senate first. The earliest it could come up in committee is Feb. 26.

If it passed, the law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014 and then allow a referendum to be held after that date.

In order to place the referendum on the ballot, a petition must be presented to the county election commission where the referendum is to be held. The petition must include signatures from 10 percent of the county's population that voted in the last gubernatorial election. The legislation as written provides the exact ballot question that will be asked of voters.

Opponents argue that the change would unfairly disrupt the existing business rules that liquor store owners invested under, and that the measure would make higher-alcohol drinks more widely available to minors.

Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he would sign the proposal into law if it is passed by lawmakers this year. The Republican governor said that he's neutral on the measure, but that he won't stand in the way of it becoming law.

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