The president of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association says his organization plans to stand by its man in the wine-in-grocery-store fight. Jarron Springer said last week his organization has complete confidence in state Rep. Jon Lundberg’s ability to shepherd a bill favorable to their cause to passage in the House.
The Bristol Republican has dutifully sponsored wine-in-grocery-stores legislation since the issue was first broached in 2008. Every year, however, Lundberg has seen his bill bottled up in a subcommittee in the House.
Springer said his organization will continue to work with Lundberg to get the bill uncorked in the House. Lundberg, he said, knows how its passage would benefit wine consumers in Tennessee.
Earlier this year, it looked as if the bill would finally make it to a vote on both the House and Senate floors. The bill was set for such a vote in Senate when the bill’s sponsors encountered a severe setback in the House. Legislation to allow residents in cities and towns that already have liquor by the drink or package stores to decide for themselves if wine should be sold in their local grocery stores was expected to be voted out of the House Local Government Committee.
Instead, the bill failed when the chairman of the committee, state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, voted “no” despite supporting the measure in a subcommittee the week before.
Springer said Lundberg and other legislators who support selling wine in the grocery stores have a couple of options for pursuing the issue when they return to Nashville in January. One option would be to start over “from scratch” in the House with a new bill. That route, of course, would mean going back to the troublesome subcommittee.
A preferred option, Springer said last week, is to revive the current bill in the House Local Government Committee. To do that, Lundberg needs one of the committee members who voted against the measure in March to make a successful motion to reconsider the bill.
Supporters hope House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, will convince Boss Hill and his colleagues on the committee to do just that. Harwell, like Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has been a very strong supporter of the wine-in-grocery-stores bill.
“I think if the committee decides to reconsider the bill, it will want to do it early in the session,” Springer said.
Steve Smith — the president and CEO of K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., which owns Food City — said last week he is hopeful that Boss Hill will change his mind on the wine-in-grocery-stores issue. Smith said Hill “got sidetracked” when he cast his “no” vote on the bill.
Since that time, Smith said he and others have had an opportunity to sit down with Hill and “discuss the pros and cons” of the legislation.
More importantly, Smith said, Hill has heard from constituents who are very much in favor of wine in grocery stores. It remains to be seen, however, if Hill’s 7th District reflects the polls that show 70 percent of Tennesseans statewide support wine in grocery stores.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.