NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee liquor stores would be allowed to be open for business on Sundays under changes to a supermarket wine bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
The panel voted to make several changes to the measure seeking to allow cities and governments to hold referendums on whether to permit supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine.
The changes included ending a ban on liquor stores operating on Sundays and holidays, and linking supermarket wine sales to the hours they are currently allowed to sell beer. The measure would also allow liquor stores to begin selling items like snacks, beer and ice in 2014, regardless of whether a city or county had approved supermarket wine sales.
The panel delayed a final vote on the bill for a week so members could have time to think about the changes. The companion bill has failed in a House committee, but supporters hope it can be revived either this year or next.
The Sunday liquor sales provision was the most contested element of the bill, with its approval coming down to a single vote.
All six votes in favor of Sunday liquor sales came from Republicans, while two GOP members sided with all three Democrats on the panel voting against it.
"I know the blue laws are outdated, but there's something wrong about selling a bottle of whiskey on a Sunday morning," said Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville.
Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro and the bill's main sponsor, noted that under the bill, liquor store hours would be limited to noon until 11 p.m. on Sundays.
Republican Sen. Doug Overbey lauded Ketron for having "labored long and hard in this vineyard," but argued for taking a week to contemplate the many changes made to the original legislation.
Fellow Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin said he was worried about the range of changes to the original bill.
"I don't want to vote against wine in grocery stores because I think our constituents are looking for this," he said. "But there are all kinds of warning signs here to me that I'm concerned about our younger people and availability in the convenience markets that they go to."
Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol, the main House sponsor of the bill, said he was unaware of any move to resurrect his version of the bill this year, but questioned why the Senate was trying to add so many elements beyond a local referendum to the measure.
"It's real simple, it's an up-or-down, yes-no vote, on whether they want to have wine sales in grocery stores," Lundberg said. "The opposition is trying to make it vastly more complex than it is."