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whiskey and Wheaties

Pennsylvania joins Florida in considering ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

In addition to the Sunshine State, Pennsylvania lawmakers have now filed legislation to break down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods.

On Saturday, the Philadelphia-based Billy Penn news site reported that bills in that state’s “House and Senate would create a new category of license that would allow grocery and convenience stores to add hard liquor to their shelves.”

For decades, Pennsylvanians had to purchase distilled spirits at “state stores,” government-run retail outlets, and wine and beer to go at licensed package stores.

But recently there’s been a booze glasnost in the Keystone State, resulting in new laws allowing “beer sales at gas stations, six-pack sales at beer distributors, shipments of wine direct to consumer addresses and … wine sales at grocery stores,” the story said.

“The primary focus is to provide to my constituents a one-stop shop experience,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Reese, sponsor of the House bill, told the website.

That echoes the pro-consumer argument advanced by proponents of this year’s legislation in Florida; the Senate bill (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for Tuesday, and the House bill (HB 81) is up next before the Commerce Committee.

That hearing has not yet been scheduled; the House version struggled to escape its first two committees of reference, clearing them by one-vote margins.

Another similarity between the two states: Pennsylvania is facing a “budget shortfall,” the Billy Penn story said, and Florida is facing a tight budget for 2017-18 and likely deficits for following years.

A version of the bill has been filed in Florida for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the “whiskey & Wheaties” wall repealed, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

Updated 4:30 p.m. — The Florida House bill will be heard by the Commerce Committee this Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. in 212 Knott.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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