Gro­cery-store wine bill short three House votes

Speaker urged pas­sage; revote likely

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BRIAN FANNEY

A bill to al­low gro­cery stores to sell what­ever brands of wine they want failed to pass the House on Mon­day de­spite a rare speech in sup­port of the mea­sure by the House speaker.

Se­nate Bill 284, by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, was sup­ported by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co. but op­posed by many liquor store own­ers, who said the bill would harm their busi­nesses. The bill failed 48-34, with 51 votes needed for pas­sage, but a move was made to re­con­sider the bill later.

Gro­cery stores now are al­lowed only to stock wine from small winer­ies, which lim­its their se­lec­tion and

sales. But the law ben­e­fits some of those small winer­ies, which re­ceive ex­clu­sive ex­po­sure in su­per­mar­kets, and it also ben­e­fits liquor stores, which sell wines from na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned brands that gro­cery stores can’t stock.

House Speaker Jeremy Gil­lam, R-Jud­so­nia, urged mem­bers to vote in fa­vor of the mea­sure be­cause it was as close to a win-win as

var­i­ous sides could achieve in mov­ing to­ward freer mar­kets.

“There are win­ners and losers in about ev­ery­thing that we do,” he said. “Our goal is to min­i­mize the col­lat­eral is­sues as much as hu­manly pos­si­ble.”

SB284 was in part the prod­uct of ne­go­ti­a­tions in­volv­ing the Arkansas Bev­er­age Re­tail­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, Wal- Mart and some Al­tus-area winer­ies.

Un­der the bill, half the gro­cery-store wine per­mit fees would be paid to Arkansas wine pro­duc­ers and half would go to­ward a wine tourism fa­cil­ity in Franklin County.

But some bev­er­age re­tail­ers, up­set about what they have called a back­door agree­ment, formed their own as­so­ci­a­tion to op­pose the bill: the United Bev­er­age Re­tail­ers of Arkansas.

Mem­bers of this group said some liquor stores agreed not to op­pose the leg­is­la­tion if the gro­cery stores wouldn’t par­tic­i­pate in lo­cal- op­tion ef­forts, or elec­tions on whether a county is wet or dry in re­gard to al­co­hol sales.

Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, the House spon­sor of SB284, ac­knowl­edged that agree­ment in a meet­ing last week.

And he said Mon­day that there were other con­ces­sions to the liquor stores. Wal-Mart, Kroger and other chain stores would only be al­lowed to place or­ders at the store level. They would be banned from or­der­ing in bulk at the cor­po­rate level to drive down prices, Eubanks said.

But liquor store own­ers had ar­gued that they were still at a dis­ad­van­tage. Un­der state law, they have to be at least 1,000 feet from a church or school, for ex­am­ple.

Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, voted against the bill.

“We have kept [ liquor stores] in a closed- mar­ket at­mos­phere and we are sud­denly go­ing to ex­pose them to a free-mar­ket at­mos­phere, with the big­gest gi­ant there is in free mar­ket coming af­ter them,” she said.

“They will die, not be­cause they’ve cho­sen a poor busi­ness model, not be­cause they’ve re­fused to com­pete in a free mar­ket, but be­cause we have pro­hib­ited them from do­ing so. We have set them up to fail.”

Rep. Vi­vian Flow­ers, D-Pine Bluff, said she would vote against it be­cause of a wave of con­stituent in­put. She said she had re­ceived more calls on SB284 than on is­sues such as health care, fos­ter fam­i­lies and abor­tion.

But Rep. Sarah Capp, R-Ozark, who worked on the leg­is­la­tion, told law­mak­ers they should take the deal they had in front of them.

“We have the op­tion here to­day of ac­cept­ing a deal that takes al­co­hol off the ta­ble for eight years,” she said. “There is noth­ing that would pre­vent a statewide ini­tia­tive for al­co­hol be­ing placed on the bal­lot that has none of the com­pro­mise worked out here to­day.”

It wouldn’t be hard for a sup­porter to do so, she said, adding that paid sig­na­ture gath­er­ers can whip up 67,000 sig­na­tures in short or­der.

Af­ter the bill failed to pass, Rep. Greg Led­ing, D-Fayet­teville, served no­tice that he will make a mo­tion to re­con­sider the vote within two days.

Led­ing said he’s a firm no on the bill. Eubanks asked him to make the mo­tion, which Led­ing said he did “strictly out of cour­tesy.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/JEFF MITCHELL

Rep. Gary Def­fen­baugh, R-Van Buren, speaks Mon­day against Se­nate Bill 284, which would al­low gro­cery stores to sell all brands of wine. The bill failed to gain ap­proval in the House.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/ JEFF MITCHELL

Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, watches from be­hind the well as op­po­si­tion mounts to Se­nate Bill 284, which he ran in the house, on Mon­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.