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Senate scales back ‘whiskey & wheaties’ bill

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State Sen. Denise Grimsley’s effort to tear down the wall has morphed into moving the door. More than 100 people crowded into a Senate meeting room Wednesday when the Regulated Industries Committee considered a proposal ending a prohibition on grocery stores stocking liquor and spirits alongside beer and wine.

Grimsley fought back against an unfriendly amendment offered by state Sen. Jack Latvala that addressed a quirk in the 1930s law requiring grocers to have a separate outside entrance –- actually a separate building for all intent and purpose –- to the area where liquor and distilled spirits are sold. She accepted a strike-all amendment from state Sen. Kellie Stargel that scaled back the original proposal, which would have allowed distilled spirits on grocers’ shelves, to permitting an inside door connecting the grocery area with an adjoining package store.

The change apparently satisfied concerns about increasing children and minor’s access to alcohol if vendors were allowed to stock whiskey alongside cereal.

“The separation remains. You buy liquor only in the liquor store. You can buy groceries only in the grocery store,” Grimsley explained.

Retailers pushing for the change say they simply want a level playing field. Grocery stores are prohibited from selling liquor or spirits alongside beer and wine, like liquor stores can. They must have a separate store with a separate entrance from their main building. Such a separation is not imposed upon liquor stores.

“Do you believe will this increase the sale of alcohol in our state?” asked state Sen. Aaron Bean about the amended proposal.

“I do not,” responded Grimsley.

“Does it not make it more convenient to buy liquor?” continued Bean.

“It does make it a little more convenient,” said Grimsley. “If I’m going to buy liquor I’m going to buy liquor,” Grimsley said, adding she does not buy liquor.

The committee approved the scaled-back version of the proposal on a 9-3 vote with several members saying they will withdraw their support if the measure is made any less restrictive than it currently is. A spokesman for the NFIB said the organization remains opposed to the bill.

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