Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wine-in-Supermarkets Bill Narrowly Survives Committee Vote

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 11:51 AM

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For the first time, the wine-in-supermarkets bill has escaped a legislative committee. A few minutes ago, the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 5-4 for the bill, which despite its broad popular appeal always has died ignominiously in past years.

We can thank Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey for today’s vote. He twisted arms in the backroom to ensure the bill made it out of committee. On the Senate floor, Ramsey says the bill’s on its own. But with upwards of 70 percent of Tennesseans demanding wine on their supermarket shelves, he insisted that it deserved a full Senate vote, at the least. Viva la RonRam!

In the umpteen years this bill has been introduced in the legislature, it always has fallen victim to a seemingly unbeatable lobbying combination: the liquor industry and Christian crazies.

This year, the bill’s sponsors are taking a different tack and they think it’s a game-changer. They’ve altered the bill to allow referendums on the issue in cities that already permit liquor by the drink or retail package stores. This way, weak-kneed lawmakers can claim they’re not really voting for wine in stores but only to let the people decide.

“This is an issue that I know has weighed heavy on you. It’s weighed heavy on all of us,” the sponsor, Murfreesboro Sen. Bill Ketron, said. “This is not about you voting to put wine in grocery stores. This bill today is to give the people in your respective districts” the right to vote on the issue.

Ketron also pointed out that senators who vote no risk the wrath of shoppers in their next reelection campaigns.

“I only throw that out for a warning because at some point in time this will come home to roost when you go back home,” he said.

Voting for the bill were Republican Sens. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, Mark Green of Clarksville, Jack Johnson of Franklin and Bill Ketron of Murfreeesboro along with Democratic Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis.

Voting no were Democratic Sen. Thelma Harper and Republican Sens. Mark Norris of Collierville, John Stevens of Huntingdon and Ken Yager of Harriman.

Update: Chas Sisk speculates RonRam exercised his mighty influence on Tate even as Ketron was going on and on about the bill, apparently stalling for time, during the committee meeting. Tate did indeed disappear for a while. When he came back, he magically transformed into a yes vote. With a flair for the dramatic, he hesitated before announcing his vote, giving heart palpitations to the army of supermarket flacks in the hearing room.

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