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Officials lukewarm about wine sales

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bedford County's two top law enforcement officers say they have mixed feelings about a petition urging state legislators to vote against allowing wine sales in grocery stores.

Wine is now only available in package stores in Tennessee.

More than 100 police chiefs and sheriffs from across the state -- including Shelbyville police chief Austin Swing -- have signed the petition, organized by a group calling itself Tennessee Law Enforcement for Strong Alcohol Laws.

Bedford County sheriff Randall Boyce said he has not yet signed the petition.

The coalition is not officially backed by the Tennessee Sheriff's Association or Tennessee Chiefs of Police.

Local views

"Because the chiefs of police support it I did sign it, but I'm not in 100 percent agreement," Swing said. "I'm having a hard time deciding."

The organization, led by several East Tennessee officers, says store sales will make wine more easily accessible to underage or binge drinkers.

"Grocery stores would have to follow the same rules as liquor stores," Swing said. "I'm sort of in the middle. I'm not sure by putting wine in grocery stores that it's going to cause binge drinking."

Boyce said he is leaning toward signing the petition.

"I haven't had time to look at it since I've been so busy," Boyce said.

"I probably will sign it ... (If the bill passes) it's going to put a lot of people out of business. I'm going to look at it and study it first."

Boyce was referring to possible business lost to liquor stores.

Liquor stores opposed

Tennessee liquor store owners, backed by the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association, strongly oppose the bill. The group's public relations agency organized the press conference announcing the petition last week.

According to the TWSRA web wite, the bill would "increase access to high proof alcohol for minors and those with alcohol addiction, threaten the future of 525 Tennessee-owned retail stores in favor of big, out-of-state corporations, and jeopardize the jobs of 3,000 Tennesseans during the worst economic crisis since the Depression."

TWSRA lobbyists have successfully battled the bill for several years.

Sponsors

State Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) and State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), with backing from the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Stores Association, are sponsoring the bill.

"This is not an alcohol bill, it's a business bill," Lundberg told The Associated Press, adding that he supports "incredibly strong restrictions on alcohol abuse."

"It is disappointing that the liquor retailers would hide behind law enforcement officials in an effort to keep Tennessee consumers from having a voice in the wine in retail food stores debate," Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, said in a statement.

A Times-Gazette online reader poll in spring 2011 showed 73 percent of participants backing the bill, which has been before the legislature each of the past six years.