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“Whiskey and Wheaties” bill now cleared for Senate floor

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A Senate bill to remove the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods won approval from a second committee, clearing it to be considered by the full Senate.

The bill sparked an unexpected objection from National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer after an amendment came up banning liquor from being sold in the same store as guns and ammo.

The Rules Committee on Thursday OK’d the legislation (SB 106) by a 6-4 vote, with Democrats and prominent Republicans in opposition.

“I just don’t see the fervor,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who also chairs the Appropriations Committee. “This is not a problem I have heard anyone urge me to fix.” He also was concerned the bill would allow workers under 18 to be around liquor. 

Trilby Republican Wilton Simpson, expected to be Senate President in 2020-22, also voted no. 

A version of the bill has been filed 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. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican carrying the bill this year, admitted it was “not a top 10 or even top 100 issue, but we deal with these things all the time.”

The bill was amended Thursday mainly to allow for the “phasing in” of retail goods-liquor integration over four years, starting in 2018.

Pure-play alcoholic beverage retailers, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent operators, have complained the bill is being pushed by big retailers looking to expand their market reach.

But Wal-mart, Target and others say tearing down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods is simply a “pro-consumer” move toward added convenience.

Latvala unsuccessfully tried to modify the bill to grant local control, allowing retailers to sell spirits in the same space as other items if the area in which they’re located OKs it “by a municipal or county ordinance.”

Flores argued against the change, saying that “to take this down to 67 counties means we fail as state lawmakers … this is an issue we should be deciding statewide.”

Simpson, citing crime concerns, offered his own amendment that would have barred retailers who sell firearms from also selling hard liquor.

That caused Hammer, who was in the committee for an unrelated Stand Your Ground-related measure, to stand up and object. She had concerns that some big-box stores in rural areas might give up guns to sell hard booze instead.

“I’m afraid that will be to the detriment of the constitutional right to bear arms,” she told the committee. “These stores will opt for the profit margin.” Simpson then withdrew the amendment. 

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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