Tuesday morning, it looked like wine in grocery stores had a chance in the Senate, as the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee postponed a vote on the issue until next week, appointing a subcommittee to work out a series of amendments to make the liquor industry happy. But by Tuesday afternoon, the bill was, to everyone's surprise, killed in the House Local Government Committee, ostensibly by Rep. Matthew Hill, who basically voted against the bill because he was pissed off at something procedural.
Still, the bill only died by one vote. If one vote had gone the other way, we'd be one step closer to eventually having a local referendum to decide whether we could live in a civilized manner like people in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina, with more locations to by wine (and, probably, high gravity beer). Which is to say, if Knoxville's own Rep. Steve Hall had voted the other way, the bill wouldn't have died.
The City Paper in Nashville caught up with everyone on the committee yesterday and asked them to explain their votes, either for or against. Here's what Hall had to say:
Rep. Steve Hall (R-Knoxville): "I actually think this can be very detrimental to the liquor industry. I know there were all kinds of proposed amendments, but that's not what was before us. Based on what was before us, for me, it was a no. I've had lots of emails coming into my office here and lots of phone calls. [From his district] it was 70-30 in opposition, just the opposite of the numbers that they say that's for it throughout the state ... I just really think that we've got an obligation to protect those folks, not that something can't be worked out to make that happen, but it hasn't yet, to equal out the playing field."
Ok, Hall represents District 18, which includes Bearden, Deane Hill, Rocky Hill, West Hills, and other parts of West Knoxville. We personally know a lot of people that live in Hall's district that want wine in their grocery stores, not to mention corporate residents like Trader Joe's, Target, Kroger, and the impending Whole Foods. So maybe none of those people have told Hall how they feel? Maybe that's why all his e-mails and phone messages are running heavily in support of keeping wine out of grocery stores? We're sure it has NOTHING to do with the donations he recieved last year from the Tennessee Hospitality PAC or the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers PAC, the two chief lobbying arms of the liquor industry in the state. (Ironically, Rep. Jon Lunberg, the sponsor of the legislation, also donated to Hall's reelection campaign last year.)
Here's the thing: The Senate is still moving ahead as planned with its compromise bill that will allow wine in grocery stores (again, once cities/counties vote for it) AND will allow liquor stores to sell other things and let people own more than one liquor store, etc. There's even a small chance Speaker Beth Harwell could twist Hill's arm enough that he recants his vote, forcing a new vote this session. If not, according to House Majority Leader Rep. Gerald McCormick, the House is going to pass the bill next year, election year or not. And whether it's this year or next, Hall will still be on the Local Government Committee. So if you live in Knoxville, especially if you actually live in his district, mail him a letter, shoot him an e-mail, or call his office and let him know how you feel. Maybe he is right, maybe 70 percent of West Knoxville really doesn't want wine in grocery stores. Whatever the results, at least he'll be faced with a more representative sample.