Northsiders hoping to make one stop to buy their wine along with their weekly groceries will have to wait at least another year for that opportunity.
Two bills that would have allowed wine sales in grocery stores have died in committee.
SB 2531, authored by Sens. Walter Michel, John Horhn and Sarita Simmons, died in the Senate Finance Committee. HB 981, authored by Reps. Brent Powell and Fred Shanks, died in the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Senate bill was a bipartisan effort, with the Republican Michel joined Democrats Horhn and Simmons.
Michel was unhappy the bill died, but was pleased another measure to allow for the direct shipment of wine to consumers had made it out of committee. He said some details of that bill were being worked out, and did not know when it would be voted on.
Elliott Flaggs, chair of the Looking for Wine coalition, a group that has been pushing for allowing wine sales in grocery stores, was disappointed with the news.
However, he said some progress is being made on the wine front.
He pointed to the fact that Ways and Means had passed out HB 4, which would allow retailers and individuals to own multiple package store permits.
Currently, individuals may only hold one liquor license and the license may not be sold or transferred.
If passed into law, Flaggs said HB 4 will likely attract larger national retailers, like Trader Joe’s, to the state.
Flaggs said those stores will likely want to sell wine on their premises, putting more pressure on lawmakers to repeal the grocery store prohibitions.
“It’s a small step in the right direction, but we have more work to do,” he said.
Bills authored this year represent the fifth time in as many years that lawmakers have introduced measures to allow grocery store wine sales.
Supporters believed the measures would gain more traction this year with new committee leadership.
Flaggs wasn’t sure why the bills failed, but points to fears that lifting the restriction on grocery stores could hurt package retailers.
Several states that have allowed grocery store sales in recent years have seen a dip in the overall number of package stores. However, Tennessee, which expanded its law to allow grocery store wine sales in 2016, has seen an increase.
Tasho Katsaboulas, spokesman for the Mississippi Beverage Merchants Committee, applauds lawmakers’ decisions.
Mom-and-pop owners have long since argued that lifting restrictions on grocery stores would hurt package stores’ business and lead to less variety for consumers.
Katsaboulas further argued that the cheaper wines that would likely be peddled by grocers are the same ones that local shops rely on to make ends meet. It’s those same wines that allow liquor stores to sell specialty brands and finer craft wines that shoppers can’t find elsewhere.
“Legislators want to provide consumers with convenience,” he said. “However, they realize that giving consumers excessive access to inferior tank wines and insufficient access to nicer craft wines is extremely inconvenient.”
Thirty-eight states allow wine sales in grocery stores, including all of Mississippi’s neighboring states.
Tennessee began allowing grocery store sales in 2016 and expanded the law to allow Sunday sales in grocery stores last year.
Flaggs said his group will continue to push for the law and pointed to survey results showing strong support of grocery store wine sales among the general public.
According to a survey of 700 registered voters conducted in February, 55 percent said they strongly supported allowing grocery store sales, while 19 percent of individuals polled identified as somewhat supportive. Six percent of individuals asked were somewhat opposed, while the remaining 17 percent were strongly opposed.
“It took five or six years for the law to be passed in Arkansas. It took seven in Tennessee,” Flaggs said. “Alcohol issues move very slowly in Mississippi.”