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State appealing ‘liquor wall’ decision

State regulators are appealing an administrative law judge’s ruling that could allow retailers to sell hard liquor in their main stores, instead of in separate stores as they do now. 

The Department of Business Professional Regulation (DBPR), which oversees booze sales through its Division of Alcoholic Beverages And Tobacco (ABT), on Friday filed a notice of appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

“At the request of the next administration, DBPR filed a notice of appeal as a courtesy to give them additional time to review this case and policy impacts,” Ashley Cook, press secretary for Gov. Rick Scott, told Florida Politics Friday night.

A request for comment has been sent to Dave Vasquez, a spokesman for Governor-elect Ron DeSantis‘ transition team.

Judge John D.C. Newton II, in a 20-page order filed Nov. 30, invalidated the state’s obscure “Restaurant Rule,” which restricts eateries and other businesses that have COP (‘consumption on premises’) liquor licenses from selling anything other than items “customarily sold in a restaurant.”

Retailers that sell ready-to-eat food, such as Costco, eventually want to be able to use COP licenses normally granted to restaurants to avoid the prohibition on selling liquor in the same space as other goods.

For over eight decades, Florida law — enacted after Prohibition — has required retailers to sell hard liquor such as bourbon, vodka and gin in a separate store, though beer and wine can be sold in grocery aisles.

Newton found for Target, Walmart and the TopGolf “golf entertainment” chain, which has five locations in Florida.

His order also confirmed that Walmart “seeks to obtain, but has not yet applied for, COP licenses for some of its Florida retail locations.”

The 24-year-old Restaurant Rule “provides no guidance on how (ABT) will determine what is ‘customarily sold in a restaurant,’ ” Newton wrote. The “inability to articulate the standards of the rule demonstrates the vagueness of the rule.”

Bills have been filed since 2014 to remove the wall of separation between hard liquor and other items.

Last year, legislation barely passed both chambers only to get vetoed by Scott, who said it’d be a job killer for small businesses, many of whom would likely be overwhelmed by big-box stores’ superior selling power.

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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