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Is this ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ last hurrah for 2017?

A troubled measure to undo the requirement that retailers sell distilled spirits separately from other goods is back on the House calendar for this week.

But a number of amendments were filed Friday night that could continue to muddle the legislation’s path to passage.

The House on Tuesday will again consider the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill (SB 106/HB 81), after postponing it twice in recent weeks. The Senate’s version passed last month. 

The most recent snag came after lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, said their reading of state law suggested teenage employees would no longer be allowed to work in stores if hard booze was sold there. Publix’s opposition has been rooted in its investment in separate stores.

Indeed, one amendment filed by Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, would clearly make it “unlawful for any vendor licensed (to sell hard liquor for consumption off premises) to employ any person under 21 years of age.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, raised concerns as early as February that the bill would allow retail employees under 18 to be around liquor.

Moreover, “I just don’t see the fervor,” he added, during a Senate Rules Committee meeting. “This is not a problem I have heard anyone urge me to fix.”

Another Friday amendment from Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, says no business can sell booze if it “received, or continues to receive, state subsidies such as tax credits, tax incentives, sales tax refunds, or grants … , has at least 10,000 square feet of retail space …  and is located in a slum or blighted area.”

That would include locations of Wal-Mart, one of the corporations pushing the repeal.

A version of the bill—which started as a one-line repealer—has been filed for four years running.

It aims to do away with 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.

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.

As Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila, the House sponsor, said recently: “Trust me: I can tell you with certainty I have experienced every thing imaginable that could possibly happen in the legislative process with this bill.”

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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