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It’s “whiskey and Wheaties” all over again

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

For the fourth year in a row, lawmakers will try to tear down the wall that separates tequila from tangelos.

Senate President pro tem Anitere Flores on Monday filed a bill (SB 106) to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

“As legislators, we shouldn’t burden businesses with archaic regulations when they must be more innovative and forward thinking than ever to compete with the digital marketplace,” the Miami Republican said in a statement.

A companion bill will be filed in the House by state Rep. Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican.

After three years of defeat, hopes may be higher now that the Senate’s second-in-command is backing the proposal.

But, as lawmakers like to say, the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill has long been a heavy lift. It’s failed even when watered down to simply allow a door in the wall between a main store and an attached liquor store.

The repeal again is supported by Floridians for Fair Business Practices, a coalition that includes Target, Walmart and Whole Foods Market. The measure will add to customer convenience and bolster competition, they say.

To boost their point, they say Florida needs to join the “30 states (that currently) allow the sale of distilled spirits alongside beer, wine and other goods.”

Flores’ bill also would allow employees under 18 to continue to work in retail stores selling hard liquor so long as they’re supervised by someone 21 or older who cards any booze-buyers.

The opposing coalition, Florida Businesses Unite, includes Publix supermarkets and ABC Fine Wines & Liquor. They have previously countered that the proposal is a naked grab for market share.

“I am very disappointed that my senator would run a bill that would help out-of-state retailers to the detriment of small retailers who have been operating under these laws for years, many here in the Miami-Dade area,” said Pantry Liquors owner Pete Izaguirre, a board member of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, another Florida Businesses Unite member.

“This impacts (Flores’) constituents, like me and many others like me, who will make their voices heard to fight this legislation,” he added.

The alcohol- and drug-abuse prevention community also has warned that commingling liquor with groceries could increase teens’ access to alcohol, for example.

The initiative was first sponsored in 2014 by state Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican in line to become Senate president in 2018-20.

State Rep. (and now state Sen.) Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, and state Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, pushed the proposal the following session.

Last session, it was carried by Republicans Carlos Trujillo of Miami in the House and Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers in the Senate.

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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