Supermarket wine bill zips past House panel

Nathan Baker • Feb 11, 2014 at 9:09 PM

A bill aiming to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores across the state continued its buoyant rise through the state capital Tuesday, garnering quick approval by the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee.

The legislation, popularly called the wine-in-grocery-stores bill, will now go to the full House floor for a vote, possibly as soon as next week.

If signed into law, it will allow jurisdictions across the state that already allow either liquor by the drink or retail package stores to hold referendums to decide if food stores can sell wine.

In the language of the law, “food stores” are defined as businesses with at least 2,000 feet of retail floor space that derive 20 percent of their taxable sales from food and food ingredients.

Similar bills met opposition in previous years from the liquor lobby, which claimed that expanding the number of outlets allowed to sell wine would soak up the profits of the state’s small package stores.

The sponsors of the bill attempted to quell those concerns by allowing liquor stores an expanded list of items to sell, including ice, cups and cigarettes.

The fees from new licenses and taxes from new sales are expected to generate millions for the state and local governments, paying for the new Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents expected to be needed to enforce alcohol statutes.

In nearly a decade, this is the farthest any of the previous wine bills have advanced through the legislature.

The Senate passed a bill last week with nearly identical language, except the square footage requirements for retail food stores is slightly larger and the fees for the newly created licenses are $850 instead of the $2,000 set by the House’s bill.

Those differences will have to be reconciled before the final bill goes to the governor for his signature.

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