UPDATE: Wine bill taking surprising route through legislature

Nathan Baker • Jan 28, 2014 at 2:39 PM

A pared down version of the broad wine in grocery stores bill that failed in the state House Local Government Committee last session passed handily Tuesday by a 13-3 vote.

The bill was split into two parts last night by sponsor Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and sent to two different committees: Local Government and State Government.

The bill reconsidered and passed by the Local Government Committee, which Jonesborough Rep. Matthew Hill chairs, was stripped of all of its content but the provision allowing for local referendums and the effective date in November when the first public votes can be held.

The State Government Committee took up the bill, which lays out the licensure process and the definitions governing which stores would be allowed to sell wine, earlier this morning. That committee recessed until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to possibly decide the fate of the bill.

Some of the Local Government Committee's members questioned the motives behind Lundberg's splitting of the bill, including Rep. Joe Carr, who said he supported the wine bill, but said the political maneuver is "not how the process works."

Once amended, the bill easily passed with 13 in the affirmative, including Hill, who was the deciding vote to kill it last session.

Here is the report from earlier:

A last-minute amendment to a bill in a state House committee surprised legislators, including local Rep. Kent Williams.

Williams, Ind-Elizabethton, said he and his fellow State Government Committee members were shocked when they received a 29-page amendment last night to a caption bill that was originally intended to change the residency requirements needed to obtain a license to sell alcohol.

"Nobody else realized it was a caption bill," the lawmaker said Tuesday. "Nobody knew this was going to be a full-blown wine bill."

The amended bill allows supermarkets, convenience stores, big box retailers and other stores, of which 20 percent of their sales taxable items is food, to sell wine.

A new retail food store license would grant the stores the right to sell vino.

A similar bill was supposed to be revisited today by the House's Local Government Committee, where it failed last session.

"Evidently, they probably didn't have the votes to pass it," Williams said. "Everyone keeps saying 'This is the year for wine,' and they've been saying that for six years now."

Williams said he felt like a handful of legislators have been working behind the scenes with lobbying groups to force the bill through the General Assembly this year, circumventing the natural progression of bills passing through subcommittees and several full committees before landing on the full floor for votes.

A motion by Williams during the committee meeting to send the amended bill back to a subcommittee failed without a second. The committee adjourned until 4:30 p.m. CST today, when it will likely reconsider the bill.

"This looks like a competition between the two speakers," the former House Speaker said. "When they call members in and tell them how to vote, it's like something I've never seen before."

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