Lobbyists, legislators cut a deal on Sunday booze sales; House sub approves

Liquor stores would get to start selling their products on Sundays six months ahead of wine sales at other stores under legislation approved by the House State Government Subcommittee Thursday, reports the Times Free Press. That’s part of a deal on changes to state liquor laws that’s also intended to help liquor stores boost their profits otherwise.

The profits provision declares that liquor must be sold to retail customers at a price at least 20 percent higher than the wholesale cost to the store owner. State law already mandates a 20 percent markup on wine sales.

The Sunday sales bill (HB1540) was amended to incorporate the compromise during Wednesday’s House State Government Subcommittee meeting with support of the sponsor, Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga). Subcommittee Chairman Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton). The panel then approved the measure on voice vote – the first vote taken on the measure.

As part of the compromise, package store owners would get a six-month head start with an ability to sell both wine and liquor on Sundays beginning July 1. Grocery stores, which still wouldn’t be selling spirits, could begin selling wine on Sundays starting Jan. 1, 2019.

“Some retail package stores want time to get ready,” McCormick said, noting it would enable not only those owners but their customers time to adjust to Sunday sales.

Asked by Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, to relate how both sides came to an agreement, McCormick said, “I don’t think it’s just two sides of a fence, I think it’s a number of fences with different sides on it.”

That included grocery stores, retail package stores, wine-and-spirit distributors and others.

Retail package stores were initially split over the Sunday sales issues, with some saying they didn’t want to open Sundays while others did. The compromise, adopted as an amendment that rewrote the original bill, seeks to smooth over those and other issues.

One bumps up package stores’ profits on sales of whiskey, vodka and other liquor by requiring package stores to charge consumers at least 20 percent over their wholesale price.

Other facets of the agreement include a provision giving package store owners more freedom when they liquidate inventory when they close. Currently, they must sell to the distributors at whatever price the wholesalers wish to pay. Under the proposed revision, stores can have going-out-of-business sales.

Another item under discussion but not yet in the legislation is allowing package store owners to sell their licenses to someone else. That, McCormick said, will need to be looked at and probably require a state attorney general’s legal opinion to sort out.

“We want to make sure we get a constitutional bill that makes all sides equally unhappy,” McCormick quipped.

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