Saying it could hurt job creation, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a contentious bill that would have removed the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods.
Scott filed his veto letter of the measure (SB 106) on Wednesday night, his deadline to act on the bill. It’s the first veto of a bill from the 2017 Legislative Session.
It would have removed the 82-year-old requirement, enacted in Florida after Prohibition, that hard liquor be sold in a separate store. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in the Sunshine State.
But independent liquor store owners and other opponents flooded the Governor’s Office with thousands of emails and petitions against the bill.
“Since becoming governor in 2011, I have repealed almost 5,000 regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens on Floridians,” he wrote. “From the day I took office, I have been committed to eliminating regulations that impose duplicative and unnecessary requirements on Florida’s citizens and businesses.
“I carefully reviewed this bill and I have met with stakeholders on both sides,” the governor added. “I listened closely to what they had to say and I understand that both positions have merit.
“Nevertheless, I have heard concerns as to how this bill could affect many small businesses across Florida. I was a small business owner and many locally owned businesses have told me this bill will impact their families and their ability to create jobs.”
For example, Kiran Patel, who owns liquor stores in Melbourne and Palm Bay, told lawmakers earlier this year that if the proposal became law, “we are finished … There’s no way we can even compete with” big box stores, which will “put pallets and pallets” of booze out in the open.
Amit Dashondi, who owns liquor stores in Brevard County, said his customers had been rooting for a veto.
“They love their independent liquor stores,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday night. “We know our customers by name. That’s not going to happen in big, corporate stores. They know how to take your money, and that’s it.”
Most recently, Costco had joined Wal-Mart, Target and others in one last push to get Scott to sign the bill, known by the nickname “whiskey and Wheaties.”
“Requiring retailers to segregate spirits into a separate store is outdated, discriminatory and unnecessary in a modern marketplace,” said Jay Hibbard, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council, which supported the bill. “Florida consumers want the same convenience of one-stop shopping that consumers in most states enjoy. We encourage the Legislature to make this a priority in the next session.”
Whole Foods Market and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association also were for the bill. But the Publix supermarket chain was against it because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores.
The veto effort was a rare effort by rivals: Florida’s own ABC Fine Wines & Spirits opposed the measure, as did the Florida Independent Spirits Association, representing smaller, independent liquor stores. Both were led by lobbyist Scott Dick, who fought against the proposal every year since it was filed in 2014.
There was last-minute lobbying on the measure: Scott’s public schedule for Tuesday shows he had taken a call with Wal-Mart U.S. President and CEO Greg Foran, and met in Tallahassee with ABC’s CEO and Chairman Charles Bailes III.
“Thanks to Gov. Scott, we now have the opportunity to keep our doors open and keep our Florida workforce going strong,” said Rory Eggers, president of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, in a statement.
Added Bailes: “We believe he made his decision based on what is best for the State of Florida. We applaud the governor for saving hundreds of Florida small businesses that employ thousands of Floridians, while at the same time keeping safeguards in place for minors.”
The bill passed both chambers on close margins: 21-17 in the Senate and a razor thin 58-57 in the House. Also, five House members who missed the vote voted ‘no’ after the roll call.
Among other things, the bill would have required miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and allowed for a 5-year phase-in. It further called for employees over 18 to check customers’ ID and approve sales of spirits by cashiers under 18.