Legislation that would let Tennesseans in certain communities vote on whether to allow the sale of wine in retail food stores via a local referendum was approved 23 to 8 by the State Senate on Thursday. The referendum bill applies to communities that currently allow retail package stores, liquor-by-the-drink establishments or both.
Thirty-six states, including six of Tennessee’s border states, allow the sale of wine in retail food stores.
In order to place the referendum on the ballot, a petition must be presented to the county election commission where the referendum is to be held. The petition must include signatures from 10 percent of the jurisdiction’s population that voted in the last gubernatorial election. The first opportunity that a referendum could be on the ballot is November 2014. If approved by the voters, wine sales in food stores could begin on July 1, 2016.
Senate Bill 837 defines retail food stores as grocery stores, convenience stores and “big box” stores with at least 1,200 square feet, as long as 20 percent of their taxable sales is food. Businesses in areas authorized to sell wine must receive a retail food store wine license and participate in the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s Responsible Vendor Program. This program requires retailers’ employees to complete training on the responsible sale of alcoholic beverages. The legislation also calls for mandatory carding for package stores and requires all transactions must be face to face, rather than through a “self-checkout” system.
Other provisions of the bill include:
- package stores, which are currently limited to the sale of alcohol, will be permitted to sell other items like mixers, glasses, corkscrews, food, beer and cigarettes beginning July 1, 2014;
- the hours for retail food stores would mirror package store hours of 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM Monday through Saturday, with no Sunday sales;
- beer wholesalers may also be licensed as an alcoholic beverage wholesaler; and
- allows wholesalers to operate in counties with population of more than 120,000.
The legislation is pending action in the Finance Subcommittee in the House of Representatives.