With the bare minimum of votes required, the Senate has approved an expansion of grocery store wine sales
by a vote of 18-14 and three not voting. The bill goes to the governor. Here's the roll call.
The law now limits wine sales to native wines and so-called "small farm" wines, though in fact the small batch wines typically are off-label products of some major wineries in other states. The law allows sales of all wines.
This was one of the most heavily lobbied bills of the session, putting Walmart, major grocery chains and a handful of large retail liquor stores against small liquor store owners, some religious opponents and even the Distilled Spirits Council, which figured if grocery stores should sell wine and cripple liquor store sales, they should sell spirits, too.
The bill had been on the Senate calendar for several days as lobbyists tried to line up the necessary votes. The independent liquor stores had done a good job in stiring opposition. Remember that a failure to vote has the same effect as a no.
House Speaker Jeremy Gillam
was a major advocate for the bill. He put it in the House Rules Committee, which he controls, and spoke for it from the floor of House, a rare step for the speaker. In the end, it passed 53-34 in the House, a margin of two votes, after it was amended with a small sop to retailers to be allowed expanded food sales under rules to be developed by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.
The backers of the bill claimed the governor's assistance, though he has insisted neutrality on the bill An agreement they circulated said the governor had agreed
to enforce a provision in their deal that the parties would go eight years without additional legislation or local option elections by grocery stores in dry counties. (He disputed any such agreement.) That provision brought in major county line liquor stores represented by lobbyists including Bruce Hawkins in Conway County and others. They reap huge profits from monopolies on sales to dry counties, particularly Conway and Jonesboro. They decided a compromise with an eight-year cessation of expensive local option fights was worth joining the deal.
Most of the bill takes effect Oct. 1.
A grant program to support Arkanas wineries doesn't take effect until Jan. 1.