Close Enough To Taste: Wine-In-Grocery-Stores Bill Passes House

Rep. Jon Lundberg, one of the principal backers of the bill, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, spoke to reporters moments after the bill passed on the House floor. (Credit WPLN/Daniel Potter)

Rep. Jon Lundberg, one of the principal backers of the bill, spoke to reporters alongside House Speaker Beth Harwell shortly after the bill passed on the House floor. (Credit WPLN/Daniel Potter)

The bill to let Tennessee grocery stores sell wine is now closer than it’s ever been to passing.

The measure cleared the state House Thursday by a vote of 71 to 15, and could be on its way to the governor for a signature by next week.

After years of political wrangling and an hour of debate and last-ditch efforts to stall it, the bill passed the House by a wide margin, with 20 votes more than needed.  Just outside the chamber, the main senator backing the bill, Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, was all smiles.

“It’s not a done deal yet, but it will be, and we can put this one on the books.”

Ketron says they still have to iron out exactly how much a store’s license will cost – somewhere around a thousand dollars.

But even if all goes according to plan, it’ll still take at least two years and a local referendum before any Tennessee grocery stores can sell wine.  And the compromise is a lot more complicated than that; it gives liquor stores the option to delay sales another year at groceries that are close-by.

It also forces groceries to mark up sale prices by 20 percent, to make undercutting liquor store prices almost impossible.  And the measure leaves out an amendment to let groceries sell high-gravity beer, though it tends to be less alcoholic than wine.

Still, Rep. Jon Lundberg says he’s pleased with the delicate balance of the deal that passed.

“Candidly, I’ll tell you that I think you saw (in) that vote of 71, folks said, ‘Wow, we really like it the way this is, that was really strong.’”

Lundberg says it would’ve only taken 51 votes to make him happy.

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