‘Open container’ bill dies despite Haslam’s support

Legislation prohibiting open containers of an alcoholic beverage in moving vehicles is dead again this year even though Gov. Bill Haslam made it part of his official legislative package for 2017.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who has pushed the idea for years, had hoped Haslam’s backing would make a difference, reports WJHL-TV, and is disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (sponsoring SB1219 for the administration) pulled the bill without a vote.

Norris said there’s not enough support among legislators for passage and debating the matter would be “a distraction” from the push for passage of the governor’s priority bill of the year — a package of tax legislation including increases in gas and diesel fuel taxes.

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Haslam appoints new ABC commissioner; Harwell and McNally may do same soon

West Tennessee pharmacist Richard Skiles has been appointed by Gov. Billl Haslam to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, filling  vacancy left on the board by the resignation in January of Mary McDaniel of Memphis.

While Skiles is the newest member of the panel, he probably won’t have that status for long, as observed by Nashville Post Politics. A bill already passed by the Senate (SB556) was approved by the House State Government Committee on Wednesday. It adds two new members to the ABC – one appointed by the House speaker, the other by the Senate speaker – to join the three now appointed by the governor.

Similar legislation passed the Senate last year, but was killed in the State Government sub about the same time the ABC’s executive director abruptly quit the post – moves that Senate Republican Leader  Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro says were related.

The House sponsor this year is Republican Rep. Bill Sanderson who shares Kenton as a home town with new Commissioner Skiles and is also chairman of the full State Government Committee.

Note: For a lengthy review of the pending bill and some of the ABC politics involved, see a News Sentinel report HERE. An excerpt:

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Senate panel votes verticle driver’s license for those under 21

News release from Senate Republican Caucus

NASHVILLE — The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee approved legislation today (Wednesday) requiring all new driver’s licenses issued to persons under the age of 21 in Tennessee be printed in vertical format to help businesses easily identify those who cannot drink alcohol. Senate Bill 384 would give the driver the option to change their license to horizontal upon turning age 21 for the reduced cost of a duplicate license.

Presently, a tiny red bar along the side of the photo on the license indicates a person is under the age of 21.

“What this really addresses is underage drinking,” said Senator Massey. “Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths nationwide among underage youths each year. Servers have found the small red bar presently on Tennessee licenses is hard to read, especially in high volume hours when a clerk or waiter is very busy. This legislation will make it much quicker and easier to identify a person who is under the age of 21 to curb any unintentional mistakes that might otherwise occur.”

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Mark Lovell’s night on the legislative reception circuit

The Tennessean has a lengthy review of Mark Lovell’s activities leading up to his resignation from the legislature amind allegations that he sexually harassed at least one woman on the night of Feb. 7. The “fondling” episode came after Lovell made the rounds on the legislative reception circuit and, by several accounts, became intoxicated. An excerpt:

On the night in question, there were at least five formal receptions. Lovell, who has longer, more coiffed hair than most lawmakers and sports a salt and pepper goatee, attended them all. The first event began before the end of the business day.

Lawmakers were invited to The Standard. It costs thousands of dollars a year to join the private club, established in 1843, and although there is a public restaurant at The Standard, a keycode is required to get into the more exclusive rooms.The soiree started at 4:30 p.m. with drinks and food paid for by AT&T and Delta Dental.

…The Tennessee Malt Beverage Association hosted lawmakers at their 14th annual “Brew Ha-Ha.” The invitation for the event, at the German-themed Gerst House near Nissan Stadium, shows a clipart image of a buxom woman holding a beer-laden tray as two figures toast in the background.

…While the food at these events tends to be mediocre, receptions at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant stand out. The Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association spent more than $17,000 at the downtown restaurant that evening, offering heavy hors d’oeuvres like barbecue and cheese plates as live music filled the air at the southern-style eatery. The bacon-wrapped asparagus was particularly delicious.

Anyone attending a different reception hosted by the Tennessee Disability Coalition had the opportunity to meet with people served by organizations including AARP Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee and the Mid-Tennessee Council of the Blind. It was at one of the swankier hotels in town, The Sheraton.

…The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents sponsored an event at the Hermitage Hotel. It’s a posh, century-old building with terracotta tiles, Tennessee marble and a painted glass skylight in the lobby that’s hosted countless lawmakers and dignitaries over the years, including serving as a headquarters for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. The hotel is across the street from Legislative Plaza.

Only the Gerst House is outside walking distance from the statehouse.

Lovell said he only had three cocktails between 4 and 9 p.m. at the receptions and afterward. “I’m less than a social drinker,” he said on the day he resigned. Others say Lovell, who is partial to Crown Royal and Coca-Cola, had many more. By 8 p.m., they say he was visibly drunk.

What happens next is disputed. The 5-foot 8-inch West Tennessean said he didn’t recall doing anything wrong at any events he attended that evening. He called the accusations of sexual impropriety “100 percent false.”

All other sources say after the legislative events that evening, the then-lawmaker grabbed a woman inappropriately while at a local establishment. He is accused of grabbing one woman’s breasts and buttocks, in addition to trying to prevent her from walking away. Several sources say he engaged in additional inappropriate touching with another woman.

Can Haslam succeed with ‘pass the bottle’ ban where others failed?

Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to ban open containers of alcoholic beverages in vehicles has been filed and is the subject of several media reports questioning whether it can pass with the governor’s backing after years of failure in past sessions.

The bill is HB532, part of the governor’s package of legislation aimed at increasing highway fund revenue.

From WPLN:

(Sen. Jon) Lundberg, R-Bristol, has tried five times to extend the state’s ban on open containers to include passengers. Each time, it has failed. Conventional wisdom is that tailgaters would like to have a nip (or two, going to or from) from the game.

Lundberg says that’s not just bad policy. It’s been costing the state money.

The federal government penalizes states that don’t have across-the-board open container bans by withholding some funding. The Haslam administration puts those loses at $18 million a year.

“This is a big chunk of money,” Lundberg says. “(When) people talk about raising the gas tax, they want to know you are squeezing every other drop of money that we’ve got to take care of this, right?”

With the governor pushing for more money for roads, he’s made getting rid of the pass-the-bottle loophole one of his priorities for the year. That’s served to elevate the issue.

Other stories: The Associated Press report, WSMV-TV, WRCB-TV.

DUI enforcement cut by governor’s ‘open container’ proposal

As proposed, Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation funding package would eliminate 57 positions dedicated to enforcing drunken driving laws by district attorneys general staff across the state. The Times-Free Press reports the governor is open to address the resulting concerns of prosecutors.

The provision in question in the governor’s legislation, which would also raise fuel taxes, would outlaw open containers of alcoholic beverages in cars on the road. Because Tennessee doesn’t already have an open container prohibition, $18 million in federal highway funds cannot be used for road construction and maintenance and instead goes to other programs – including $6.5 million now used for special DUI prosecutors, training and police overtime for DUI enforcement. With passage of the governor’s plan, all $18 million would be shifted to road construction.

“We’re aware of that,” the governor said last week. “We fund some DUI [enforcement], DAs through that. We’re willing to look at other ways to make sure that function gets paid for. We realize that’s critical.”

…Jerry Estes, former 10th Judicial District attorney general and now executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, recently said DAs in 25 of the state’s 31 judicial districts rely on the funding. He said prosecutors are hoping to work something out.

“Our concern is 57 positions that would be lost if they’re not funded another way,” Estes said. “And what those 57 positions do, they’re very involved, of course, in prosecuting DUIs and vehicular homicides.”

Moreover, Estes said, the money also helps train sheriffs, police departments, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and other enforcement agencies to combat DUI and impaired driving.

“Tennessee’s DUI deaths on the highways have gone down greatly since these programs have been in place,” said Estes, who called them “very crucial” to that success.

…Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, a former prosecutor, said the $18 million, including the $6.5 million that now goes to prosecutors, needs to be replaced.

“If we can take $18 million out of the general fund and allocate that towards safety, specifically toward 57 positions in the district attorneys’ offices, officer overtime, roadblocks and advertising to combat intoxicated driving, I think that’s a great solution,” Lamberth said.


Haslam said “not having the open container law has meant that the federal government’s telling us how we can spend that $18 million.”


“I think we should choose how we spend that and then to decide do we want to fund DUI, DAs another way,” the governor said. “But in the meantime, money that should be going to roads should be going to roads.”

Next TN legislative booze battle: Legalize Sunday liquor sales?

Two years after persuading legislators to let them sell wine, Tennessee grocery and convenience stores are now setting an ambitious new goal of repealing the long-standing ban on Sunday sales of wine, reports the Times-Free Press.

Rob Ikard, president and CEO of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association, said the grocers group is joining with Tennessee wineries and the Distilled Spirits Council to push for what he calls “seven-day sales.”

“We think if there’s ever a time to try it, it’s right now, because we know our customers are really perplexed they can’t buy wine in our food stores on Sunday when they can buy beer across the aisle,” Ikard said.

…Because package liquor stores also sell wine, the proposal would allow them to open and they would be able to sell liquor too, Ikard and others said.

Both Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro said they’re strongly looking at sponsoring the legislation.

“I have talked to them about that and I probably will do it,” said McCormick, who chose not to seek a fourth term as House majority leader for the legislative session beginning Jan. 10.

“I think it’s just to make it consistent leave it up to the local operators and not the state,” McCormick added. “I think most [Tennesseans] will go along with it.”

He noted that Tennesseans already can buy wine or spirits by the drink on Sundays at restaurants with an alcohol license.

Ketron said that as part of the 2014 agreement on grocery store wine sales, he agreed not to take up the issue of Sunday sales for two years.

Ryan Haynes moves from TNGOP chair to liquor lobbyist

Former Tennessee Republican Chairman Ryan Haynes has signed on as lobbyist for the Tennessee liquor wholesalers, reports the Times-Free Press. He’s deemed the heir apparent to Tom “Golden Goose” Hensley, for decades the top lobbyist for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee.

Haynes, 31, who was a state representative from Knoxville before resigning to become TNGOP chair, registered as a lobbyist for the group on Dec. 6 just three days after stepping down as chairman. He and Hensley both declined comment.

Once seen as an able lawmaker with a future in House leadership, Haynes has now cast his lot with the wine and liquor wholesale distributors organization as the group finds itself increasingly on the defensive.

…Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro confirmed there is a slow-motion shift of sorts underway in the wholesalers’ organization which for decades has shaped how, when and by whom wine and liquor get sold in Tennessee.

In 2014, Ketron outmaneuvered Hensley and the wholesalers, passing a landmark bill marking the first significant change in state law for decades over their opposition. It allowed grocery and convenience stores to sell wine for the first time.

Still, before the law passed, Hensley managed to stick a few quills into the law, including delaying the change until last July 1.

Asked whether Haynes’ hiring by the wholesalers was over Hensley’s objections, Ketron said, “it’s a succession thing based on what Tom told me. Tom said he’s going to try to move into semi-retirement. He’s going to work with Ryan during this session. Then there’s some kind of wholesalers distributors’ school right after session” for Haynes.

Ketron said Hensley also told him Haynes would have the opportunity to work with him further and then “at some point in time I’ll turn the reins completely over to him. That’s all I know at this point.”

Henry Hildebrand, general counsel for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers group, confirmed Haynes was working not just as a contract lobbyist for the session but for the organization itself under a decision made by the group’s leaders.

Because Haynes has been out of the legislature for 18 months, the one-year ban on former lawmakers lobbying their one-time colleagues has come and gone.

Meanwhile, if Hensley is “the Golden Goose,” what is Haynes going to be called? Some old Capitol Hill hands are arguing for “the Gosling.” But Ketron said Hensley told him it will be “the Duck.”

Legislators blame Alcoholic Beverage Commission troubles on board members

Audits finding problems at the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, some dating back to 2007, have led to legislators urging that members of the ABC board be replaced, reports the Times-Free Press.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, both expressed their belief commissioners should be ousted, and ousted soon, because of failures noted in audits in 2007, 2009 and last month.

“When you look at an audit and the first finding starts with the line ‘as noted in the 2007 financial and compliance audit,’ there’s a problem,” Bell said. ” Who [these failures] fall back on are the commissioners. That is where the buck stops. They’re the ones, in my opinion, who have not been giving proper attention and oversight to the executive director.”

“That is where the buck stops. They’re the ones, in my opinion, who have not been giving proper attention and oversight to the executive director.”

…Last month’s audit found continued failure in key areas stretching back more than a decade. The commission failed to put proper policies in place to oversee licenses, did not properly keep track or handle confiscated evidence and did not have proper conflict-of-interest policies in place, among other failures noted in the audit. (Note: The full audit report is HERE.)

The (Joint Government Operations) subcommittee voted to recommend the commission continue for at least four more years but asked auditors to follow up within a year to examine what improvements have been made.

However, if Bell has his way, the commission will have new leadership. He encouraged lawmakers and commission directors to write a letter asking Gov. Bill Haslam to replace the current commissioners.

“There will be a letter under my signature going to the governor,” Ragan assured Bell.

The commission consists of Chairwoman Mary McDaniel, John Jones and Bryan Kaegi. They did not attend the hearing Wednesday morning.

McDaniel and Kaegi were appointed to the commission on the same day in 2011 while Jones replaced his father on the commission in 1992. They each have overseen the commission during a stretch when audits found key failures throughout it.

“These were not just crossing T’s and dotting I’s,” Bell said. “These have to do with integrity of the system.”

Trade deal pitched as boon to TN booze producers

Excerpt from a Politico note on U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s visit to Nashville Friday to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership, written off by many as “all but dead after a brutal election campaign,” as a boon to Tennessee whiskey and music businesses:

Tennessee whiskey and bourbon account for over half of American spirits exports to TPP countries, which totaled over $557 million last year, according to USTR. The TPP agreement would eliminate spirits tariffs that are now as high as 45 percent. New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, and Vietnam also would recognize Tennessee whiskey and bourbon as distinctive U.S. products, giving them special protection in those markets.

Nashville is home to Rep. Jim Cooper, one of 28 House Democrats who voted last year for trade promotion authority to help Froman finish the TPP talks. In fact, seven of Tennessee’s nine House members voted for TPA, and so did both of its senators, Republicans Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. The two Tennessee congressmen who voted against the fast track trade bill were Reps. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, and John Duncan, a Republican.

And here’s the start of an AP story on Froman’s visit:

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