After a contentious debate over one of the state's liquor laws on establishing distilleries, the House of Representatives on Monday voted 57-31 on the legislation, passing a bill which would benefit a key GOP lobbyist.
The chamber debated the merits of the bill for the better part of an hour. It would allow distilleries in counties originally exempted in a 2009 law, like cities that have previously passed liquor by the drink and package liquor store sales.
A self-described "mule at the Kentucky Derby" who lacks political clout, teetotaler Rep. Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga) tried to force his peers to vote on requiring distilleries be kept away from schools, churches and daycare centers — amendments that all failed in the GOP-led legislature.
“It’s a special treatment for a special few. That’s what it is. No other industry gets this same kind of treatment in state government,” Floyd told The City Paper about the bill which creates a pathway for distilleries to open in a series of counties that were exempt in a 2009 liquor law, and address other unresolved issues.
Floyd, who would rather the bill fail, put his GOP peers on record for two amendments to the bill. One attempted to ban Sunday operations and a second attempted to keep distilleries more than 500 feet away from churches, schools and daycare centers, measured from one property line to another. Both failed. He withdrew a final amendment that would would require distilleries be more than 1,000 feet apart, seemingly targeting the Sugarlands Distilling Company, a distillery wanting to open in Gatlinburg less than 1,000 feet from Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery.
Bill sponsor Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) added his own change to the bill to require any area imposing a distance requirement should only apply to the retail building, and be measured from building-to-building. Certain local municipalities can limit distilleries up to 2,000 feet away from churches and schools, he said. The legislation now heads to the Senate which will have to agree on Carr's final addition.
If passed, the new law would in part benefit David McMahan, who has said he is a “minority investor” of Sugarlands Distilling Company. He is one of three people listed as an applicant on a certificate of compliance for a distillery bottle shop there.
McMahan is a registered lobbyist to more than two dozen groups on Capitol Hill, including the Tennessee Federation for Children and the Tennessee Charter School Association.
However, nearby established competitor Ole Smokey distillery has also been involved. The company employed two lobbyists on Capitol Hill to fight the legislation this legislative session.
A handful of lawmakers attempted to oppose the bill, including suggesting the House kill the bill and come back with it next year. However, the legislature passed with a comfortable seven-vote margin.
A key point of the legislation would also allow Chattanooga to become home of Chattanooga Whiskey, which is now made in Indiana. Aside from Floyd, the Hamilton County delegation — which includes Majority Leader Gerald McCormick — backed the bill.
The measure passed the Senate 22-9 earlier this month.