A Memphis Wish List 

Wine in grocery stores, no more loosened gun laws, and no vouchers for private schools..

'Tis the season to be wishing, as we were reminded on seeing a list of legislative requests prepared jointly by Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell and presented to the Shelby County legislative delegation on Monday, on behalf of both city and county governments. It encouraged us to tote up some of our own wish-list items for the forthcoming legislative session.

Number One: We tend, with some trepidation, to favor efforts which have now become perennial in the General Assembly, to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores. Up to this point, that change in state law has been blocked by the powerful liquor lobby on Capitol Hill. We understand the concerns of liquor store operators, who feel needful of protection as small business owners faced with competition from big-box grocers. But the grocery business itself in these parts is tilting toward monopoly, and a little diversity in wares might encourage some variety in venues, too. This should be balanced by also allowing liquor and wine vendors more leeway in the diversity of products they sell.

Number Two: We oppose efforts, also perennial, to further enlarge the scope of gun-carry legislation. Wyatt Earp himself would have been scandalized at the liberality envisioned in something called "constitutional carry," a measure which would essentially allow anybody anywhere anytime to pack a concealed weapon. This bill might end up, er, dead on arrival, but not the renewal of efforts to allow guns to be kept in locked automobiles in parking lots. The National Rifle Association, a lobbying organization so powerful as to be a virtual organ of government, backs this one, as it did last year, when a bill to that effect was barely bottled up, thanks to opposition from several of the state's high-profile business employers, including FedEx here in Memphis.

The NRA managed to exact vengeance on state representative Debra Maggart, the Republican caucus chairperson who kept the guns-in-parking-lots bill from coming to a floor vote last year. It backed her opponent in this past summer's GOP primary and contributed mightily to her defeat. This obvious object lesson notwithstanding, we hope the state's legislators have the gumption to hold firm against the bill again this year. No one needs to be reminded of the cases, local and statewide, in which the easy availability of a sidearm has contributed to needless fatalities.

Number Three: We understand that Governor Haslam is likely to back legislation on behalf of school vouchers — i.e., public money doled out to pay tuition at private schools. A formerly tabled bill to that end will be retooled and reintroduced by state senator Brian Kelsey with enhanced prospects for passage.

Kelsey's bill was focused on what he calls "opportunity scholarships" for low-income students, and we appreciate the good intentions, but such a bill is the proverbial nose of the camel inside the tent — or, to switch metaphors, the slippery slope itself. Any way you cut it, diverting taxpayer monies to private institutions is a dangerous precedent and one likely to further erode public school systems already straining to stay functional.

This is just a first installment, Santa. We've got more things on our mind, which we'll communicate in due time.


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