published Friday, March 15th, 2013

Gerald McCormick: 'wine-in-grocery stores' bill dead

Republican Rep. Mike Carter of Chattanooga, standing, speaks with fellow lawmakers on the House floor in Nashville on Thursday. To his right is Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, a main sponsor of a wine-in-supermarkets proposal that failed in a House committee this week by a single vote.
Republican Rep. Mike Carter of Chattanooga, standing, speaks with fellow lawmakers on the House floor in Nashville on Thursday. To his right is Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, a main sponsor of a wine-in-supermarkets proposal that failed in a House committee this week by a single vote.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said the effort to let grocery stores sell wine is "dead for this year," but Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said his chamber is pressing on with the legislation "while the iron is hot."

The yearslong effort failed this week in an 8-7 vote by the House Local Government Committee when the chairman, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, voted no.

"I think it's dead for this year," said McCormick, who supports the legislation.

He predicted the measure, pushed by grocery chains but resisted by many liquor store owners and the liquor distributors' lobby, will pass in 2014.

"I think it would be in everyone's interest to be at the table rather than gather the scraps ... because I think the bill will pass next year," McCormick said.

Resurrecting the bill, he said, would require one of those who voted no in committee to move to reconsider it. But McCormick said even then, it would take two-thirds of the panel to do so.

Actually, according to the House Clerk's office, only a majority of those eligible to vote in the committee and not two-thirds would need to vote to reconsider the measure.

Informed of that, McCormick said, "I still think it's dead.

"We just don't do that very often," he said. "If we start getting in the habit of doing that, then every time you lose a close vote, people will go back and start trying to reverse the action of a committee and we can get stuck in a logjam."

Still, McCormick said, "maybe if the speaker [Beth Harwell] feels strongly enough about it to pursue that, but I think we need to be very cautious about it."

Harwell, R-Nashville, is a strong supporter of the wine in grocery store legislation. She sat in the Local Government Committee this week, ready to break an expected tie, only to see her handpicked chairman, Hill, vote no.

Hill, who voted for the bill in subcommittee previously, said he voted no because proponents cut off debate on 10 amendments to the measure, several of which he supported.

Harwell, whose mother died this week, left the state at midweek to go to her mother's Pennsylvania home.

The 16th member of the panel, Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, was absent, attending another meeting where Jones, a child advocate, was grilling state Department of Children's Services officials over steps the agency is taking to rectify problems.

Jones later said she didn't know how she would have voted on the wine-in-grocery stores bill, which has been before the Legislature for years.

A special Senate subcommittee worked on the legislation Thursday.

"This bill will eventually come back. It will. It would be my intention to strike while the iron's hot," Ramsey told reporters.

"Whether it's this year or next year, it will be back and so we'll have ours ready to go to the floor. I think that sends a message to the House that we think we have the votes."

If House members "just move forward, we'll get this resolved," Ramsey added. "That'd be my preference."

In other legislative action Thursday:

• State college and university students would be able to use student identification cards to satisfy photo voter ID rules under legislation approved by the Senate.

The bill, which passed 21-8, now goes to the House.

Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron's bill also aims to end a lawsuit pending before the state Supreme Court over Memphis allowing voters to present public library-issued photo ID cards to cast ballots.

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, whose district includes the University of Tennessee, opposed allowing college IDs to be used for voting purposes.

• Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to tighten enrollment requirements at privately run online schools has passed the Senate.

The measure guided by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville was approved 27-2.

The proposal would allow beginning online schools to start with an enrollment of 1,500 and continue to expand as long as they meet performance requirements. If they fail to do so for three consecutive years, then the state education commissioner can cap enrollment, or direct the local school board to close it.

• The Senate approved legislation that would protect student counselors at public higher education institutions who withhold their services because of religious beliefs.

The measure passed Thursday 22-4.

The legislation targets students in counseling, social work or psychology programs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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