Last Thursday, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed House Bill 610 by a vote of 71-15, voting to allow the issue of the sale of wine in grocery stores to be submitted to voters in local referendums, and creating a permit for the sale of wine by grocery stores. On January 30, the Senate had approved Senate Bill 837 by a vote of 23-8. The Bill will now be returned to the Senate to review the remaining differences between the two bills, before it goes to the Governor for signature. If signed by the Governor, it is anticipated that the issue could be on local November ballots for consumers to weigh in on local approval of grocery store wine sales.
One of the key differences between the two bills was fixed by the House in its new version, with the reduction of minimum size for grocery and convenience stores from 2,000 to 1,200 square feet, allowing about 500 more convenience stores to qualify. The House also reduced the fee for a grocery store wine license to $1,250 from $2,000, bringing it closer to the $850 in the Senate Bill. Already, following the House vote, Sen. Bill Ketron, the Republican who sponsored the Senate Bill, indicated to reporters that he planned to accept the House version and could ask for a vote as soon as March 3.
Even if approved, wine sales won’t be possible in grocery locations until summer 2016 due to an agreement reached with lobbies for liquor stores and wholesalers that had opposed the proposals. In another concession to liquor stores, both bills open up opportunities for traditional liquor stores to sell items other than alcohol and to do so as soon as this summer, two years before any grocery store wine sales could begin. Liquor stores are currently allowed to sell only wine and distilled spirits and a few minor accessories like corkscrews. Additionally, grocery stores would be subject to a minimum 20% markup on wines sold, in an attempt to address volume discounting, and would be prevented from offering combined deals of wine and other grocery items. To encourage wholesaler support, the Senate Bill allows for wholesalers to be located outside the four major cities in the state which they are currently restricted to, and the House Bill would extend that even further to any county which currently permits bars or liquor stores to operate. Blue laws, preventing Sunday sales of alcohol, will not be affected by any new legislation, and such sales will continue to be prohibited.
The debate in Tennessee has been ongoing since 2006. It is not the only state which has been discussing this issue as we previously blogged here. Currently, thirty-five states do not restrict the sale of wine in grocery stores. No state has managed to pass legislation changing the status quo since Iowa permitted grocery store sales in 1985. Factions in New York, now the second largest wine-producing state by volume, have attempted to pass wine in grocery store bills on numerous occasions, including a significant push in 2011. The Kansas House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee held a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 2556 which would allow the sale of full strength beer and wine in grocery stores, inducing vigorous debate. A bill introduced to the Oklahoma Legislature this month, which would permit wine to be sold in grocery stores and nonalcoholic beverages and refrigerated beer and wine to be sold in liquor stores, died in Committee. And last month, a federal appeals court in Kentucky ruled that the state’s ban on grocery store sales of wine and liquor was constitutional. The court said that the state had every right to ban such sales, “just as a parent can reduce a child’s access to liquor.” The grocers who filed the original challenge to the law are reviewing rehearing and appeal options now.
If you have any questions about where wine can be sold, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
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