Hamilton County seeks to opt unincorporated areas out of whiskey law

Hamilton County seeks to opt unincorporated areas out of whiskey law

June 14th, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Whiskey Co. supporters wear buttons that say "Vote Whiskey" as they show up in support as company owners appeared before the Hamilton County Commission in this file photo.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

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ON THE AGENDA

At Wednesday's voting meeting, county commissioners will consider:

• Rezoning property at 1815 Dallas Lake Road from R-1 residential to A-1 agricultural;

• Five contracts for staffing at the Hamilton County Drug Court Program;

• Buying a $121,641 dump truck for the county's highway department;

• Entering a legal services agreement with Rheubin Taylor as county attorney.

The great Tennessee whiskey war is over, and the wets won. But Hamilton County commissioners now are working to keep distilleries out of unincorporated areas.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law May 16 that allows distilleries to operate in any city that permits both liquor by the drink and retail package sales, and in the unincorporated county around those cities. The law takes effect July 1.

Commissioners have 45 days from the signing of the bill to opt the unincorporated county out of the law, and that's what members of the legal committee Thursday decided to recommend to the full body.

Commissioner Jim Fields, a lawyer and chairman of the legal committee, said that was the plan from the beginning. Fields said if unincorporated county residents want distilleries, they can drum up support for a referendum.

"That was one of our concerns when we asked the Legislature to look at it. We wanted to make sure folks living in those areas who had not voted on the issue would have an opportunity to do so," Fields said.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he expects the full commission will pass the resolution.

Commissioner Chester Bankston, who along with Tim Boyd was opposed to writing a letter of support to legislators over the whiskey law, said Thursday he also supports the resolution. Most of his 9th District is unincorporated land.

"I think I pretty much know how my constituents would vote on [allowing distilleries]," Bankston said.

State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, who drafted the law, said the county is doing exactly what the law allows for.

Under a 2009 law, from which Hamilton County was exempt through population requirements, the counties had all the decision-making power over whether municipalities could allow distilleries.

That has changed with the new law.

"They got opted in, because Chattanooga was in. They are just taking the option to opt back out," Carr said. "We have some of the most arcane, complicated, arduous alcohol laws in the country. It's ridiculous. We're just trying to give people the options of being in or out."

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.