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John Harris: Repealing Prohibition-era law adds security and convenience

Occasionally it’s a good idea to take a look at Florida’s laws and question whether they still merit being on the books.

Last year, lawmakers repealed the law requiring a 10-percent ethanol blend in gasoline. The law was inconsistent with efforts to reduce regulatory burdens to help Florida create a pro-business, job-producing environment. Lawmakers also decided in 2013 that requiring foreign visitors to have an international driving permit was not in the best interest of our tourism industry.

This year, state lawmakers are proposing bipartisan legislation to repeal a long outdated law that, like the Renewal Fuel Standard Act and the IDP requirement, adds burdens on businesses and consumers and simply does not make sense anymore.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Reps. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, and Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, are sponsoring legislation to repeal Florida’s separation law.  Senate Bill 804 and House Bill 877 would allow consumers to purchase distilled spirits in the same store where they can already buy other retail items including food, beer and wine.

Originated in 1935, the separation law came on the books shortly after Prohibition. Today, 34 states allow the sale of liquor without a separation requirement.  The bill to repeal brings the state into the 21st century to reflect the convenience today’s consumers expect. It also removes burdens on businesses that bring millions in tax revenues to state coffers and employ hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

During my 28-year career with Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, our office conducted sting operations on all types of licensed liquor establishments. I have seen firsthand that grocers and retailers have numerous safeguards in place to keep minors from getting alcohol in their stores.

They have training programs to prohibit alcohol sales to underage and intoxicated customers. Employees learn how to turn down alcohol sales to minors, how to spot a fake ID and much more. They also program registers to prompt cashiers for a purchaser’s age and to disallow sales during restricted selling periods.

Data compiled in one state without a separation requirement shows that liquor-only stores have more recorded violations in selling alcohol to minors than retailers subject to the separation measure.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the Centers for Disease Control’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey the majority of underage drinkers (ages 12-20) report getting their alcohol from adults.

Floridians for Fair Business Practices is a coalition of retailers whose purpose is to identify rules and regulations that hamper the growth and expansion of Florida business. The separation law is one we believe needs to go.  The coalition encourages legislators to give the bill a fair hearing in committee and let the members decide.

John Harris is an expert on state alcohol and tobacco regulations and responsible alcohol service and he serves clients as an expert witness. He served as the Director of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco during a 28-year career with the agency.  He is a member of Floridians for Fair Business Practices. For additional information please go to Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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