Petitions are already circulating in Northeast Tennessee to trigger referendum votes to allow wine in food stores, but the campaign is set to begin in earnest next week.
Representatives of both regional grocery store chain Food City and Red White and Food, an organization that helped guide the law through the state legislature, on Tuesday confirmed a kickoff event scheduled for Monday at the Food City store on Eastman Road in Kingsport to announce the local petition drive.
According to the law, approved this session by lawmakers and signed in March by Gov. Bill Haslam, petitions must be submitted to county election commissions bearing signatures totaling at least 10 percent of the number of voters in each municipality in the most recent gubernatorial election by Aug. 21 for the referendum to be on each municipality’s ballot in November.
According to figures provided Tuesday by the Washington County Elections Commission, proponents of the referendum would need to collect approximately 1,200 signatures in the two months before the deadline to get the measure on the ballot.
Petitions were reportedly circulating at several grocery and big box retail stores in the Tri-Cities and surrounding communities this week, but interested parties said more information about the petition campaign would be revealed at the Monday announcement.
One of the major drivers of the campaign statewide is Red White and Food, a nonprofit organization spun off the movement begun by the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Stores to get the law passed.
In a press release from earlier this month, the organization announced its independence and its newly gained nonprofit status, allowing it to lead petition efforts across the state.
If voters approve the referendums locally, food stores — defined as retail stores that earn at least 20 percent of their taxable sales from the sale of food — will be allowed to sell wine starting July 1, 2016, although legislators have hinted that date could be moved forward in the next legislative session.
To produce a bill agreeable to liquor store lobbying groups, grocers’ groups included provisions in the law allowing package stores to sell an expanded list of items starting this July.
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