After hesitating for a moment, Sen. Reginald Tate cast the deciding vote on the bill that paves the way for wine sales in grocery stores, pushing it further than it’s ever been on Capitol Hill.
With Tate's vote, the measure passed on a 5-4 vote.
The legislation, which would allow a public referendum to decide whether or not to allow wine sales in food stores, still has a long way to go for a chance to become law.
“It’s a war and they won the battle today,” said Chip Christianson, who serves on the board of the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association and argues the move would cripple local liquor stores. “I think that these senators dropped the ball on their responsibilities.”
The committee heard two hours of testimony Monday from large and small grocery retailers, liquor store owners and other stakeholders about the legislation. Political onlookers had known for days that the vote would be razor thin, but few knew which side the vote would fall on.
Before the vote, the nine-member committee narrowly rejected an amendment to sweeten the deal by allowing liquor stores to sell goods in addition to alcohol, like cigarettes, mixers and corkscrews.
Under state law, liquor stores can only sell wine and alcohol, and have the exclusive right to sell those products. Meanwhile, food stores can sell beer.
Proponents called the vote “monumental” to moving the legislation forward. The speakers from both chambers favor the legislation, although the bill has several more hurdles to go before it has the chance to become law. The legislation now moves to the Senate Finance Committee. A House subcommittee, which has halted the bill for years, is hearing arguments for the bill today.