BY O.J. EARLY
One of Greene County's three state legislators voted in favor of a bill that would have paved the way for wine to be sold in grocery stores.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-11th, of Cosby, a member of the state House Local Government Committee, joined six of his colleagues Tuesday in voting Yes on House Bill 610. The measure failed by one vote, dying before making it out of the committee.
He was the only local representative on the committee, and, as a result, the only legislator representing Greene County with a vote on the bill.
Faison would have met opposition, however, from at least one of Greene County's other lawmakers, State Senator Steve Southerland, R-1st, of Morristown.
"I'm a deacon in the Baptist church, and have been for about 30 years," Southerland said. "I vote No on all alcohol bills, in any form."
Southerland said that lobbyists have approached him over his 11-year tenure in Nashville, urging him to vote in favor of alcohol-related bills. His position hasn't changed, he said.
"There are about six of us in the Senate who will constantly vote that way," he said. "It's not just the wine in the grocery stores. I understand it is already being sold. That's just my position."
The bill itself would not have guaranteed that wine would be sold in grocery stores across the state.
Instead, the measure would have allowed city councils and county commissions in areas where liquor by the drink is legal to hold a referendum on whether to extend wine sales to convenience stores and supermarkets.
On Thursday, Rep. Faison said in an interview that no one contacted his office asking him to vote against the bill. Numerous people urged him to support the measure, he said.
"I'm not a drinker," said Faison, who represents the Greene County precincts of Caney Branch, Mohawk, Orebank, McDonald and South Greene.
"That being said, alcohol is legal. I don't feel it's fair or right for Nashville to dictate winners and losers -- who can sell and who can't."
He continued: "The people in Greene County are very smart. Voters know what they want, and the best thing I can do is give them the right to choose."
In an interview with the Sun on Wednesday evening, State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, did not say outright whether he would have voted for the bill or would not have.
He provided this statement in a telephone interview: "The constituents that I have heard from have broadly supported this legislation."
As a result of redistricting in 2012, Hawk represents an estimated 90 percent of Greene County residents in the state House of Representatives.
According to a Thursday report by the Associated Press, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey wants a wine bill to move through his chamber's committees even though the companion bill failed in the House.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, was not pleased with the vote, according to reports.
"I'm disappointed because I think the people of this state deserve an opportunity to vote on this issue," Harwell told the AP.
With both Ramsey and Harwell supporting the issue, a similar bill is likely to come back to the legislature in a future year, Faison said Thursday.