Wine bill not most important proposal on Capitol Hill

Robert Houk • Jan 13, 2014 at 10:59 AM

The Tennessee General Assembly will reconvene this week, and as usual, there are a number of issues that will be carried over from past sessions. One such golden oldie that looks to be finally resolved this year is a bill to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores.Near the end of the last session of the General Assembly, I had a conversation with a thoughtful reader who was questioning the attention journalists have given this issue. There have to be other issues more important to Tennesseans, he said. One issue important to him, he told me, was a major overhaul of the Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law. The measure was a major part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative package last year and had no problem passing in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.Critics of the workers’ comp reform say it heavily benefits insurance companies and dramatically cuts money going to workers who suffer on-the-job injuries. A major component of the overhaul now requires the state workers’ comp division, which is under the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, to redefine the calculation for compensating injured employees.Surely, the reader told me last year, compensation to Tennessee workers who are injured on the job is more important than where someone purchases a bottle of wine.I couldn’t agree more. On paper, and in the real world, workers’ comp reform was more important than the wine in grocery stores bill. Even so, the wine legislation was a story people wanted to talk about. Publish a story or question about the wine bill in a newspaper and you are bound to get a number of letters and emails. Post a story or question about the wine bill on a website and you are sure to get many clicks and comments. Do the same concerning workers’ comp and you are lucky to get a few if any responses. I know, I tried.We all share the blame for that, and by “we” I mean journalists, elected officials and the public itself. None of us do our due diligence in addressing such issues.I’m hopeful, however, the same mistake won’t be made this year when the General Assembly takes up a measure to require a prescription to purchase any over-the-counter medicine containing pseudoephedrine. In case you haven’t heard, pseudoephedrine is the key ingredient for making methamphetamine.It’s interesting to note that at a time when state lawmakers are talking about making it easier to buy a bottle of wine, there are some who wish to make it harder for cold and allergy suffers to purchase a drug that has been sold over the counter for decades.State law already requires pharmacies to place cold and sinus tablets that contain pseudoephedrine behind the counter. Buying these drugs now requires a customer to show photo identification to a store clerk and then sign for the purchase. Certainly, meth continues to be a problem in Tennessee, but it doesn’t seem fair to inconvenience consumers in the process. It’s the meth makers who should be punished, not those fighting allergies.Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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