LITTLE ROCK — A bill to allow grocery stores in wet counties to sell wine from any winery failed in a House vote Monday.
Senate Bill 284 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, received 48 votes in support and 34 against, falling short of the 51 votes needed for passage in the 100-member House.
The measure passed in the Senate earlier this month in an 18-11 vote, receiving exactly the number of votes needed for passage in the 35-member Senate.
One of the members who voted against the bill, Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, notified the House speaker that he intends to seek reconsideration of the measure. House rules allow a failed bill to be considered a second time if the House approves a motion for reconsideration by a member who voted on the prevailing side.
Under current law, grocery stores in wet counties can obtain permits to sell wines only from “small-farm wineries,” defined as wineries that produce no more than 250,000 barrels of wine per year. Hester’s bill would allow grocery stores in wet counties to apply for permits to sell wine from a winery of any size.
The measure also would create a grant program to help support Arkansas’ wine industry, to be funded with the fees paid by grocery stores for wine permits.
Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, a co-sponsor of the bill, told House members, “I believe in a free enterprise-type system, I don’t know that we should be restricting what grocery stores can sell.”
Eubanks acknowledged that the measure would mean new competition for liquor stores but said the competition “may also make them better.” He also said liquor stores would continue to have “a monopoly” on selling types of alcohol besides wine and beer.
Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh, R-Van Buren, spoke against the bill, saying that liquor stores would not be on a level playing field with large chains like Wal-Mart Stores and Kroger because the state only allows one liquor store license to be issued per person.
“If this bill passes and Walmart gets liquor licenses for a lot of its stores … those small liquor store owners, they’re going to be stuck in one-owner-ville for life,” Deffenbaugh said.