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“Whiskey and Wheaties” looking dead, but advocates keep pushing

If proponents of tearing down the hard liquor “wall of separation” in retail stores had a theme song, it would be, “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”

Businesses organized as Floridians for Fair Business Practices want to repeal the Prohibition-era state law that requires businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The past few year, big-box chains Wal-Mart and Target have supported tearing down the wall; Publix supermarkets, ABC Fine Wines & Liquor and the alcohol and drug-abuse prevention community stand in opposition.

This is the third year the big-box chains have tried to get the repeal passed, but this session was their worst showing.

The Senate bill (SB 420) has not yet even been put on an agenda in that chamber, and the House companion (HB 245) was temporarily postponed during a November committee week and never heard again.

Adjournment sine die for the 2016 Legislative Session is barely two weeks away.

The organization released a statement Monday, again denouncing what it calls the hypocrisy of ABC Fine Wine & Spirits‘ alcohol delivery service, which now includes one of its St. Petersburg stores.

The company has partnered with a smartphone app service “to deliver alcohol to your doorstep,” coalition spokeswoman Christina Johnson said.

“It’s hypocritical to staunchly support keeping a Prohibition-era law that walls off liquor sales, yet take full advantage of modern tools to expand the footprint of your own business into new markets, where there are no walls at all,” she said.

“You can’t have it both ways,” she added. “With this expansion it is even more clear that the opposition isn’t concerned about minor access, but rather with maintaining their monopoly on liquor sales.”

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.

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

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

A watered-down plan that would have allowed a door in the wall between a main store and an attached liquor store found no traction.

This session, it’s again being carried by Republicans, state Rep. Carlos Trujillo of Miami and state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers.

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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