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Wine in supermarkets bill fails by one vote; reaction mixed

By Meredith Machen, mmachen@wcyb.com
Published On: Mar 12 2013 08:35:53 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 12 2013 09:36:13 AM CDT

The proposal to put wine on supermarket shelves in Tennessee may be dead for the year, and it's a local legislator's deciding vote that made the difference.

The bill that would allow local referendums on whether grocery stores should be able to sell wine failed by a single vote in a house committee.

Representative Jon Lundberg (R) of Bristol has been pushing for wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores for years, but Tuesday he hoped for a delay in a vote so lawmakers could hash out some more details. That didn't happen.   

With seven votes of 'aye' and eight votes of 'nay,' it was a close vote for the wine in supermarkets bill in the House local government committee Tuesday.  

We learned it was the committee chair state representative Matthew Hill (R) of Jonesborough who broke the tie.

Lundberg was shocked since Hill voted for the bill previously. "I was disappointed. I did not expect this, especially from someone in our area. The three cities in our area, Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City got together, and when they went over their legislative priorities, this was one of them," Lundberg told us in a phone interview.

Lundberg said he has no plans to bring the bill back up this year.

For local citizens who have been hoping for the convenience of one-stop-shopping for wine and food, it’s also a disappointment. "I would like to have the opportunity to go in a grocery store and purchase a bottle of wine if I choose to. Now I can't do that, so I have to go to a liquor store," said Greg Cochran, a Bristol, Tennessee resident.

But inside liquor stores, the bill's defeat comes with sigh of relief.

At Vintage Collections Wine and Liquor, wine inventory has already been scaled back in anticipation of the possibility of the bill's passage; store owner Mike Hilton said it would have hit his store hard. "About 40 percent of our revenues come in the form of wine, so it would've been the reduction of 40 percent of our profits," Hilton explained.

It's a financial fear that liquor store owners likely won't be facing for another year. "Thank God the House of Representatives saw the issues involved and voted against it," added Hilton.

The Associated Press reported Hill said he was upset that supporters called for a vote on the measure before considering a series of amendments that would have significantly changed the bill.

News 5 called Representative Hill for further information; his press secretary told us Hill was not available for comment and that no statements are being released at this time.

Lundberg said he does plan to bring the bill back next year.