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Wine in grocery stores legislation to resurface

Staff Reports • Dec 15, 2015 at 1:50 PM

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said the effort to let grocery stores sell wine is "dead for this year," but Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said his chamber is pressing on with the legislation "while the iron is hot."

The years-long effort failed in March in an 8-7 vote by the House Local Government Committee when the chairman, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, voted no.

"I think it's dead for this year," said McCormick, who supports the legislation.

He predicted the measure, pushed by grocery chains but resisted by many liquor store owners and the liquor distributors' lobby, will pass in 2014.

"I think it would be in everyone's interest to be at the table rather than gather the scraps ... because I think the bill will pass next year," McCormick said.

Resurrecting the bill, he said, would require one of those who voted no in committee to move to reconsider it. But McCormick said even then, it would take two-thirds of the panel to do so.

Actually, according to the House Clerk's office, only a majority of those eligible to vote in the committee and not two-thirds would need to vote to reconsider the measure.

Informed of that, McCormick said, "I still think it's dead.

"We just don't do that very often," he said. "If we start getting in the habit of doing that, then every time you lose a close vote, people will go back and start trying to reverse the action of a committee and we can get stuck in a logjam."

Still, McCormick said, "maybe if the speaker [Beth Harwell] feels strongly enough about it to pursue that, but I think we need to be very cautious about it."

Harwell, R-Nashville, is a strong supporter of the wine in grocery store legislation. She sat in the Local Government Committee this week, ready to break an expected tie, only to see her handpicked chairman, Hill, vote no.

Hill, who voted for the bill in subcommittee previously, said he voted no because proponents cut off debate on 10 amendments to the measure, several of which he supported.

Harwell, whose mother died this week, left the state at midweek to go to her mother's Pennsylvania home.

The 16th member of the panel, Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, was absent, attending another meeting where Jones, a child advocate, was grilling state Department of Children's Services officials over steps the agency is taking to rectify problems.

Jones later said she didn't know how she would have voted on the wine-in-grocery stores bill, which has been before the Legislature for years.

A special Senate subcommittee worked on the legislation Thursday in March.

"This bill will eventually come back. It will. It would be my intention to strike while the iron's hot," Ramsey told reporters.

"Whether it's this year or next year, it will be back and so we'll have ours ready to go to the floor. I think that sends a message to the House that we think we have the votes."

If House members "just move forward, we'll get this resolved," Ramsey added. "That'd be my preference."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Chattanooga Times Free Press contributed to this report.

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