Nashvilles Lower Broadway’s entertainment district. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Hume-Fogg’s parent-teacher organization called on top state Republican lawmakers to pull legislation exempting Lower Broadway bars from oversight by the Metro Nashville government.
Bob Bernstein, on behalf of the Hume-Fogg PTO, sent a letter the Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, on Friday, asking the Republican leaders to help stop the bill backed by Tootsie’s Entertainment to exempt Lower Broadway bars from oversight by the Metro Nashville’s Beer Board.
“I share the goal of many state legislators of reeling in what has become an out-of-control Lower Broadway,” Bernstein said. “I have serious concerns about legislation that would reduce oversite of underage drinking laws in our neighborhood.”
Hume-Fogg High School — located at 700 Broadway — is part of Metro Nashville Public Schools and located blocks from the heart of the Lower Broadway strip.
The legislation, House bill 594, came at the behest of Tootsie’s Entertainment owner Steve Smith, who owns Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk, Honky Tonk Central, Rippy’s Bar & Grill and several other properties on Lower Broadway.
Smith and the Metro Nashville government have butted heads in the past over COVID-19 rules and other regulations. Smith sued Metro Nashville officials when they suspended beer permits at several of his establishments in June 2020.
The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, and Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville.
Garrett said the bill would give the Tennessee Alcohol and Beverage Commission, or ABC, more authority over Lower Broadway.
But, as it currently stands, the state ABC has roughly the same oversight authority as the beer board, with the two organizations often working together to enforce underage drinking and overserving laws, with the beer board providing more of the oversight. Over the last two years Metro Nashville Beer Board officials have conducted 250 inspections on Lower Broadway, while the Tennessee ABC conducted 16, according to information provided by the beer board.
The state ABC isn’t outright opposing the legislation because it would allow them to keep the staff they hired during the pandemic. The department hired several people to regulate to-go alcohol and could shift that staff to focus on Lower Broadway enforcement.
Bernstein’s letter said keeping some local oversight would make it easier for officials to respond to concerns from the Nashville magnet high school.
“It’s much easier for concerned parents to call local officials who they know as friends and neighbors,” Bernstein said. “The school has a good track record of working with Metro on downtown issues… [they were] very responsive on the issue of regulating transportainment vehicles.”
The bill is the latest attempt by business interests to capitalize on Republican lawmakers’ distaste for the Metro Nashville government. Last year, the Metro Council blocked the 2024 Republican National Convention angering Republican leaders across the state.
This legislative session, GOP lawmakers passed a law to cut the size of Metro Council in half and are moving forward with bills to take over seats on boards that oversee Nashville’s airport and sports stadiums.
The beer board bill is up in a Senate committee Tuesday, and House subcommittee Wednesday. It could end up on the floor of either chamber next week if it passes through those committees.Bob Bernstein, Hume-Fogg PTO letter.
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