Bill allowing out-of-state wine in grocery stores fails in Ark. House

Wine in grocery stores bill fails in House

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- There were quite a few biblical references to David and Goliath in the Arkansas House Monday.             

Arkansas small business owners went up against Walmart and won, but the tale doesn't end there.

"With 47 yays, 33 nays, and 12 present the bill has failed,” said House speaker Jeremy Gillam.

Senate Bill 284 would allow out-of-state wines to be sold in Arkansas grocery stores. However, it failed, but by a narrow margin.

"I'm very confident this bill will pass before we are out of session,” said state senator Bart Hester, the bill's sponsor, who plans to bring it up again. "I think there will be a lot of talking between today and tomorrow on what's going to happen. It was very close with 47 yays, so I think we will hear it again very soon."

A victory for those opposed to the bill, mainly liquor store owners, who say they have a long way to go.

"Obviously, we still have our work to do to help the representatives understand that this is indeed not a comprehensive repair of problems."

John Kelly was one of the 572 Arkansas liquor store owners not included in a deal allegedly made between Arkansas Beverage Retailers Association and four grocery store chains, including Walmart and Kroger.

The agreement reads that the liquor store group won't battle wine getting in to grocery stores and won't introduce restrictive legislation regarding the sale of wine and beer for the next eight years. In exchange, grocery stores agree not to participate in legislation concerning beer, liquor, or wine for those same eight years.

The agreement also puts the Governor Asa Hutchinson’s office in charge of policing the agreement.

The Governor’s office said, “The Governor has maintained his neutrality on this process. While he had staff observing the process and the agreement as it played out (which is out standard practice on many issues), the agreement was drafted by Walmart and others. It is not the role of the Governor’s office to enforce an agreement between private entities.”

"Arkansas Retail Beverage Association hid this bill from its members. We were never brought to the table to try to negotiate things that would also benefit us,” said Kelly, who was a member of the group.

Hester argues, “if you’re a small business owner and your argument is you weren’t included in the talking, that’s your fault for not being active in this process. The grocery stores have been talking about this since last session, for two years.”

Those in favor say SB284 would open a "protected class of business" up to free market.

Kelly said because liquor stores can't buy whole sale, can't sell food, and can't operate near churches or schools, they're not on even ground.

"If we are going to be a free market, we need comprehensive reform. This bill doesn't do that,” he added.

Arkansas Beverage Retailers Association could not be reached for comment.

Hester said he could reintroduce the bill as early as Tuesday.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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