Supporters of Red White and Food, the coalition of consumers in favor of allowing wine sales in retail food stores, celebrated a victory last week when the state House of Representatives passed legislation (HB610) that will allow Tennesseans to vote by local referendum on where they buy wine in their communities.
In a historic change to Tennessee’s liquor laws, both chambers of the Tennessee legislature have passed the legislation, paving the way for local referendums on the issue to begin this fall. The law mirrors how Tennessee residents already vote at the local level on retail package stores and liquor-by-the-drink.
Due to additional amendments on the House version of the legislation, the wine in retail food stores bill will be sent back to the Senate for concurrence. The bill would then be sent to the governor to sign it into law.
“The vast majority of Tennesseans want the convenience of picking up a bottle of wine when they do their regular grocery shopping, and they have tirelessly supported this legislation for the past seven years,” said Steve Smith, president and CEO of K-VA-T Food Stores.
“Passing this legislation does not put wine on store shelves; instead it empowers local voters to make the decision about wine sales for their communities,” Smith added. “This bill was truly a compromise. Neither side is totally happy. But we are proud of the huge step made today, and we will continue to support Tennessee voters in bringing this change to the local level.
“We are grateful to House Speaker Beth Harwell and House bill sponsors Rep. Jon Lundberg and Rep. Ryan Haynes for their commitment to passing the wine bill this session.”
This is the first major change to the state’s liquor laws in decades and is the result of years of work by retailers to be able to provide this product for their customers, who continually request the ability to buy wine where they shop for groceries. With this vote, and with the passage of the subsequent referendums, Tennessee becomes the 37th state to allow the sale of wine in retail food stores.
This year marked the first time that retail package stores and other affected parties came to the table with the grocery retailers to negotiate and create a bill that would support competitive business practices, while giving Tennesseans the right to vote on wine sales. The resulting legislation includes several compromises, such as delaying implementation for retail food stores and allowing retail package stores to sell additional items.
Tennessee communities can begin to hold local referendums as part of their regular local elections this November and could see wine on the shelves as early as July 1, 2016.