NASHVILLE –State Sen. Bill Ketron and state Rep. Jon Lundberg have filed joint legislation that would allow Tennesseans to vote on whether to allow the sale of wine in retail food stores via a local referendum.
State Rep. Jon Lundberg (center) and Sen. Bill Ketron discuss their proposal to allow referendums be held regarding wine in grocery stores during a Jan. 31, 2013, press conference in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo submitted)
The two proposals, which will likely face stiff opposition from the liquor distribution industry, were filed Thursday in the Tennessee General Assembly, with Ketron introducing the bill in the state Senate and Lundberg in the House of Representatives.
The bill, if passed, would give municipalities in those communities that currently allow retail package stores, liquor-by-the-drink establishments or both to hold a referendum on the sale of wine in retail food stores during the next general election.
The authorization law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, and would allow a referendum to be held after that date.
“Rep. Lundberg and I strongly believe that Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to vote on this issue,” said Ketron, a Republican from Murfreesboro. “Currently, municipalities decide whether to allow retail package stores or liquor-by-the drink in their communities, so it makes sense to also take the issue of where to sell wine to the voters.”
In order to place the referendum on the ballot, a petition must be presented to a county election commission, which would hold the referendum.
The petition would have to include signatures from at least 10 percent of the county’s population that voted in the last gubernatorial election. The legislation as written provides the exact ballot question that will be asked of voters.
“Tennessee loses a significant amount of revenue to our border states,” said Lundberg, a fellow Republican from Bristol, Tenn. “My constituents in Bristol will tell you that they often cross the state line to buy groceries, gasoline and other household necessities. Giving Tennessee’s retail food stores the ability to sell wine will make up for some of that lost revenue and add millions to our state’s coffers.”
Thirty-six states, including six of Tennessee’s border states, allow the sale of wine in retail food stores.
Kentucky will soon join the list due to a recent federal court ruling which deemed its liquor laws unconstitutional.
According to the Tennessee Fiscal Review Committee, state and local revenues would increase by millions of dollars if consumers are allowed to purchase wine where they shop for food. The fees paid by retail food stores’ wine licenses would cover the cost of additional Alcoholic Beverage Commission staff members.
The bill would also require any retail food store that sells wine to participate in the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s Responsible Vendor Program, which requires retailers’ employees to complete training on the responsible sale of alcoholic beverages.
Retail food stores already practice mandatory carding, regardless of the customer’s age or how old he or she might appear to be.
Ketron and Lundberg believe that one of the more important pieces of the legislation is the requirement that all retail package stores participate in mandatory carding and take part in the Responsible Vendor Program. Liquor stores are currently exempt from these requirements under current state alcohol laws. This change would allow for uniform treatment of alcohol sales, regardless of where they occur.
The referendum legislation has the support of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association and the Tennessee Retail Association.
The state’s retail food store industry employs an estimated 70,000 Tennesseans and remits hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, real, personal, gross receipts and state franchise and excise taxes.