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Grocery retailers aim to push “Whiskey and Wheaties” redux in 2016

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A legislative push to commingle whiskey and Wheaties will be back for a third time before Florida lawmakers next year.

A coalition of national big-box stores and their allies will meet within the next two weeks to work on this year’s strategy, spokeswoman Christina Johnson said.

Wal-Mart, Target and others formed Floridians for Fair Business Practices. They’ve wanted to repeal the Prohibition-era law that requires retailers to sell hard liquor in a store that is separate from groceries and other wares.

“Every indication leads me to believe we will be doing this again,” Johnson said of the 2016 Session. “We still believe this prohibition is an archaic law that needs to be brought into the 21st century.”

The initiative has had a strong backer in state Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican in line to become Senate president in 2018-20.

He first sponsored legislation two years ago before becoming Senate Majority Leader under current President Andy Gardiner. Galvano, however, hasn’t been able to carry a booze bill over the finish line.

It hasn’t yet been sussed out who will take on the bill next year. State Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, and state Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, did the heavy lifting most recently. 

Even a watered-down proposal that would have at least allowed a door in the wall between a main store and an attached liquor store failed last Session.

Proponents say it’s about customer convenience. Opponents counter that it’s a grab for market share that will hurt traditional “pure play” liquor stores, especially “mom ‘n’ pop” shops.

Publix also hates the idea because it goes against their business model of having separate liquor stores and supermarkets.

Moreover, the Florida-based supermarket giant owns only about a third of the buildings it has stores in. It might not be able to tear holes in walls it doesn’t own.

Also antagonized by the plan is Florida’s alcohol and drug-abuse prevention community, which has said it could increase teens’ access to alcohol.

Johnson said it’s a “customer convenience” issue and the change would be an option – not a mandate on businesses.

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 [email protected]

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