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State Rep. Jon Lundberg announced today he is filing legislation to allow localities to hold referendums on whether wine should be sold in Tennessee grocery and convenience stores.
"It will be a referendum bill. Typically, liquor bills have been handled at the local level and that’s what this bill is designed to do," Lundberg, R-Bristol, said of his legislation.
Past legislative attempts to expand wine sales beyond liquor stores have failed in Tennessee. Virginia, however, allows wine to be sold in grocery stores.
According to Lundberg’s bill, referendums on allowing wine in grocery and convenience stores could begin after the start of 2014.
To get on the ballot, the local referendum would need 10 percent of the signatures of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election. The locality would also have already passed either a liquor-by-the-drink or liquor store sales referendum, according to Lundberg’s legislation.
"Bristol, Kingsport, Johnson City all would qualify to do that," Lundberg said.
All three Tri-Cities governments have told local lawmakers to support legislation allowing wine sales in grocery and convenience stores, in addition to the sale of beer with less than five percent alcohol content.
Those local governments also have encouraged opening up the sale of products that are currently restricted in liquor stores — like corkscrews or glasses.
Lundberg’s bill, however, does not address beer sales or restricted items.
"Frankly, I would like (liquor store operators) to come to the table and talk about what they want," Lundberg said. "They and their lobby frankly have said ‘We do not want to sit at the table because this legislation is going to die.’ Now I think we’ll be able to put everybody at the table."
The lobbying organization for liquor store operators is the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association (TWSRA).
In the 2012 election cycle, Lundberg received campaign contributions from the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Stores Association (TGCSA) and retailers like Publix Markets.
"A couple of the ones you mentioned were first-time contributors," Lundberg, who ran unopposed in the last November general election, responded. "Has my opinion been swayed? No. Have their been (campaign) contributions from the Tennessee spirits industry (TWSRA) ? There have been."
TGCSA has been behind a "Red White and Food" campaign to bring wine sales to grocery and convenience stores.Lundberg claimed his bill is good for economic development.
"I feel very good about it this year," he said of his legislation. "The difficulty for those who want to keep the liquor industry monopoly is legislators will have a tough time saying no to a local vote. That’s what this does."
The bill’s Senate sponsor is state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.