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Alcohol prohibition repeal kick starter for “Whiskey and Wheaties” bill?

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The group Floridians for Fair Business Practices may be using the anniversary of the prohibition of alcohol as a kick starter to reinvigorate a stalled measure that would allow distilled alcohol sales in grocery stores.

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on Jan. 16, 1919, making alcohol a prohibited substance. That amendment was repealed at the end of 1933.

The group is comparing the decades-old repeal to Florida’s alcohol separation law calling it outdated and one that “no longer has any bearing in today’s society.”

Florida passed a law requiring distilled alcohol to be sold in stand-alone stores devoid of most grocery items. It’s why shoppers can buy beer and wine at the grocery store, but not liquor. It’s also the reason places like ABC Fine Wines and Spirits exist and grocery chains have separate liquor stores.

Dubbed the Whiskey and Wheaties Bill, the measure is before Florida lawmakers for the third straight year, and it appears completely stalled. The item was pulled from a committee agenda in November by its sponsor, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, because one of its supporters was absent.

Nothing has happened with the bill since.

So supporters are becoming creative, releasing a list of silly bills across the nation that have since been repealed and arguing this too should join that list.

“It’s been nearly 100 years since the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and more than 80 years since its repeal, yet Florida maintains a tight grip on a concept that has proven to be ineffective and outmoded,” said Christina Johnson, spokespwoman for Floridians for Fair Business Practices. “It is past time to repeal this law so that businesses and consumers alike can benefit from cost savings that a truly free market economy brings.”

Michigan makes the list twice with a couple of silly, even disgusting, laws. In 1919, the state passed a law requiring county sheriffs to locate and kill unlicensed dogs. That law wasn’t repealed until 2014. Another bill passed in 1931 made mocking someone for refusing a duel and singing or playing the Star Spangled Banner in a nontraditional manner illegal. That omnibus law was repealed just last year.

An old Kentucky law imposed fines on people for appearing on highways or streets dressed only in “bathing garb.” And an expired law in Wisconsin required restaurants to serve cheese and butter with meals.

“These outdated laws seem outrageous today, but more than likely made sense during their time. Florida’s alcohol separation law is another perfect example of this,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t make sense for our state to keep this law on the books, unless of course the goal is to protect certain businesses from competition.”

Supporters such as Johnson and Floridians for Fair Business Practices argue repealing the law provides customer convenience, but critics worry repealing the law would give large grocers too much of an upper hand at the expense of smaller businesses.

Corporate giants such as Wal-Mart and Target are in favor of repealing the law. Critics of the new bill to repeal separation include Publix, ABC and alcohol-abuse prevention advocates.

Trujillo’s bill does not appear on any legislative calendars as of yet. It was slated for a first reading this past Tuesday, but no vote was taken.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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