'Wine in supermarkets' bill fails by a single vote

Wine in supermarket bill fails

The fallout from a controversial vote continues in Tennessee.

That vote put the brakes on a Tennessee bill to allow local referendums to decide if wine could be sold in supermarkets.

News 5 spoke with state Representative Matthew Hill (R) of Jonesborough, who made the deciding vote, as well as the owner of a local grocery store chain, to get their reactions.

Food City CEO Steve Smith told us he was at the committee meeting when it was struck down in an 8-to-7 vote Tuesday afternoon and was stunned to learn it failed, but Representative Hill told us there's a good reason.

Wine on supermarket shelves may be an afterthought for Tennesseans this year.    

A swift and controversial vote from the house local government committee Tuesday blocked the bill to from moving forward. Committee chairman Matthew Hill said after a delay was requested and amendments were ready to be discussed, a majority of committee members chose not to delay the vote. He said another member stopped discussion.

"We didn't get an opportunity to ask one question. We did not get the opportunity to make one comment on the bill yesterday and that is wrong," Hill told News 5 in a phone interview.

That's why Hill said he voted no, rejecting the bill. "I do not feel comfortable passing a bill that could be made better through debate and discussion," Hill added.

Food City CEO Steve Smith told us that came as a shock. "I've got to tell you, we were quite surprised and very disappointed with the way things played out," Smith said.

Smith believes his customers support the convenience of wine sold on the same shelves as food.

Since wine is already being sold in grocery stores in Virginia, Smith said, from his perspective, it's really the state of Tennessee missing out. "We've been selling wine to Tennesseans for a long time in our company. We just haven't been collecting Tennessee sales tax, because they do come to Virginia," said Smith.

But there's also the loss of potential jobs.

Smith estimates 80 percent of his 61 Tennessee stores would have voted for wine in a local referendum, and that would create dozens of openings. "We would've probably put on a person or two in all the stores that sold wine to be able to stock the wine, to be able to be educated in the wine," said Smith.

It's a grocer's disappointment, but one that's not staying without a fight. "We'll be back. We hear our customers," added Smith.

Representative Hill told us he supports working with the bill's sponsor, Representative Jon Lundberg (R) of Bristol, to hear all possible amendments to draft the best possible bill for constituents, and moving forward from there. He said that would likely happen next year rather than in this session.

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