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Senate passes ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill

Three Legislative Sessions later, the Senate finally passed a bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods.

Senators approved the “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) on a 21-17 vote after a debate in which one senator said it would “kill … kids.”

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who first filed a one-line repealer in 2014, spoke in favor of what has now become a 5-page bill. Among other things, it requires miniatures to be sold behind a counter and allows for a 5-year phase-in.

Today, the separation of spirits from retail has “no nexus to the reality of everyday life,” said Galvano, in line to become Senate President in 2018-20.

In a speech that started by mentioning famed mobster and bootlegger Al Capone, Galvano said alcohol now has been “mainstreamed.”

A Prohibition-era state law requires 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.

Big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target want the repeal, saying the added convenience is “pro-consumer,” and independently-owned liquor store operators say they will suffer. Publix also has opposed the move, saying it’s invested in the separate liquor store model.

Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami-Dade Republican, asked colleagues, “Why are we doing this?” He called it “the Wal-Mart bill,” and said it would give an “unfair advantage” against small businesses.

The rhetoric eventually gave rise to emotion: Sen. Daphne Campbell attacked the bill, saying it wasn’t even about “politics, it’s poli-tricks.”

The Miami-Dade Democrat said the effect of the legislation would be to “kill your own kids … How can we do this?”

Anitere Flores, the Miami-Dade Republican carrying this year’s bill, was taken aback.

People watching the debate, she said, must be asking “what in the world does this bill do? Does it kill children. No.” She earlier pointed out it’s not a mandate on any business.

The repeal’s fate in the House is unclear: That chamber’s version, recently amended to be more similar to the Senate’s, has been limping through its committees on one- and two-vote margins.

Joe Negron adds to committees’ strength during Dorothy Hukill’s recovery

While Sen. Dorothy Hukill recovers from cervical cancer, Senate President Joe Negron has named additional members to committees on which she serves.

In a memo dated Tuesday, Negron said Sen. Anitere Flores will help out in the Education Committee, which Hukill leads.

“Sen. Hukill will remain the chair of the Committee on Education,” Negron aide Katie Betta said. “Under the Senate rules, the chair designates a senator on the committee to serve in her absence on a week by week basis.”

Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala takes a seat on the budget Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto will serve on the Health Policy Committee. And Ben Galvano will sit on the Transportation Committee.

The appointments take effect immediately, Negron said.

“I appreciate your willingness to take on this additional responsibility on behalf of the Florida Senate,” he wrote.

“Sen, Hukill is still on all of these committees,” Betta said.

Hukill has been absent from Tallahassee during the Legislative Session, but has been following proceedings remotely.

Senate begins consideration of ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill

After Sen. Bill Galvano first proposed it four years ago, the Senate is poised to pass a bill removing the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods. 

Bill sponsor Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican and Senate President pro tempore, took questions on the legislation (SB 106) Tuesday. It’s now set up for debate and a final vote.

The “whiskey and Wheaties” measure aims to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

“The question now becomes has this outlived its purpose?” Flores said. “The answer is yes.” Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

The Senate bill also would phase-in the integration of liquor into main stores over several years, starting in 2018. The House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice.

Big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target want the repeal, saying the added convenience is “pro-consumer,” and independently-owned liquor store operators say they will suffer.

If signed into law, Florida would be the 30th state to allows the sale of hard liquor in general retail space, advocates say.

 

Redistricting-related bill OK’d by Senate

The Florida Senate Tuesday passed a bill aimed at streamlining the handling of political redistricting court cases.

The legislation (SB 352) was approved without debate 24-14, sending it to the House. 

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican, has said the plan “locks the maps in place on qualification day,” giving clarity to candidates.

It also “encourages” courts “to follow certain procedures to maintain public oversight when drafting a remedial redistricting plan,” according to a bill analysis.

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

Hutson, an Elkton Republican, was concerned that previous redistricting cases were decided “behind closed doors, outside of the public eye” by judges.

Opponents, including Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog, had called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”

 

Tom Feeney calls Senate plan “largest Florida tax hike in many years”

The head of Associated Industries of Florida came out in opposition Tuesday to the Senate’s plan to repeal a tax break to the insurance industry.

“AIF supports reducing the business rent tax,” AIF president & CEO Tom Feeney said. “However, we cannot support this tax break on the back of creating what would be the largest Florida tax hike in many years if the insurance premium tax salary credit is repealed.”

The bill (SB 378) aims to use the money from the insurance companies’ tax break and use it to instead reduce the tax that businesses pay on their commercial rents, a cut that Gov. Rick Scott has long called for.

“Florida is one of only a few states that have two separate taxes for insurers – a corporate income tax paid by all businesses and a second, punitive tax on the insurance premiums paid by Floridians,” Feeney explained. “The removal of the working tax credit would make premium tax collections from insurers in Florida increase by $297.3 million.”

The state “simply cannot risk the future creation of new high-paying insurance jobs or the loss of such existing jobs,” he added. “We need a predictable, business-friendly environment that includes reasonable incentives for corporations large and small to do business in Florida.  That is what keeps Floridians working and Florida-based companies giving.”

Pennsylvania joins Florida in considering ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

In addition to the Sunshine State, Pennsylvania lawmakers have now filed legislation to break down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods.

On Saturday, the Philadelphia-based Billy Penn news site reported that bills in that state’s “House and Senate would create a new category of license that would allow grocery and convenience stores to add hard liquor to their shelves.”

For decades, Pennsylvanians had to purchase distilled spirits at “state stores,” government-run retail outlets, and wine and beer to go at licensed package stores.

But recently there’s been a booze glasnost in the Keystone State, resulting in new laws allowing “beer sales at gas stations, six-pack sales at beer distributors, shipments of wine direct to consumer addresses and … wine sales at grocery stores,” the story said.

“The primary focus is to provide to my constituents a one-stop shop experience,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Reese, sponsor of the House bill, told the website.

That echoes the pro-consumer argument advanced by proponents of this year’s legislation in Florida; the Senate bill (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for Tuesday, and the House bill (HB 81) is up next before the Commerce Committee.

That hearing has not yet been scheduled; the House version struggled to escape its first two committees of reference, clearing them by one-vote margins.

Another similarity between the two states: Pennsylvania is facing a “budget shortfall,” the Billy Penn story said, and Florida is facing a tight budget for 2017-18 and likely deficits for following years.

A version of the bill has been filed in Florida 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.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the “whiskey & Wheaties” wall repealed, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

Updated 4:30 p.m. — The Florida House bill will be heard by the Commerce Committee this Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. in 212 Knott.

House gambling bill set for Ways & Means this week

The House of Representatives’ omnibus gambling bill will again be heard this week, records show.

The bill (HB 7037) is on the agenda for the Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd, on Tuesday.

Though it includes a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the legislation overall “freezes” the current ambit of gambling in the state, as Rep. Mike La Rosa has said. He chairs the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, which already OK’d the measure 10-5.

That contrasts with the Senate’s gambling bill (SB 8), which cleared all its committees and awaits a hearing on the chamber floor.

The House would outlaw designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.” The House also would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines.

Moreover, La Rosa’s legislation would divert the state’s cut of the Seminole gambling money – $3 billion over seven years – to go to education, split three ways among “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” and “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

 

Senate’s ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill teed up for floor

The Florida Senate’s bill to remove the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods is scheduled for the floor next week.

The “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for next Tuesday, according to the chamber’s website on Friday.

Meantime, the House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice.

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.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the repeal, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

 

Senate passes fix to ‘stand your ground’ law

The Florida Senate has passed a change to the state’s “stand your ground” law that would make it easier for criminal defendants to claim self-defense.

It was approved on a 23-15 vote during Wednesday’s floor session. Specifically, the bill would require prosecutors to prove “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.”

The bill (SB 128), sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, is in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the law, passed in 2005.

The stand your ground law allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

Democrats, including Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson, said in often emotional debate that the bill would encourage wrongful claims of self-defense.

“This tips the scales against fairness and justice … this is a how-to-get-away-with-murder bill,” she said.

Bradley later responded: “If I thought for one second this would encourage criminal behavior because it created some sort of loophole, I would have had no part of it.”

Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who sponsored the original law in the House of Representatives in 2005, said the change would help prevent violent acts.

He also said the legislation wasn’t “about guns”: In protecting oneself or others, “I don’t care if you use a chair leg.”

Bradley’s bill now goes to the House for consideration.

 

Rick Scott signs death penalty fix into law

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation Monday requiring a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed.

Lawmakers passed the bill out of the House and Senate last week, rushing the measure through the process in hopes of fixing the state’s death penalty law. The House voted 112-3 to approve the measure Friday, one day after the Senate voted unanimously to approve it.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 declared the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision. The ruling was based on a case where a judge issued a death sentence after a 7-5 jury recommendation.

In 2016, the Legislature overhauled the state law to let the death penalty be imposed by a 10-2 jury vote. But in October, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions.

The change goes into effect immediately.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

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