Legislature takes drinks to-go party to Gov. DeSantis’ desk
Image via Twitter/ChrisMZiegler.

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The Governor previously endorsed the possibility.

Lawmakers have formally sent a bill to permanently allow patrons to order alcoholic drinks to-go to Gov. Ron DeSantis. His signature would codify a pandemic-era order the Governor issued last year.

Last spring, DeSantis issued an executive order that included so-called “alcohol to-go” to help restaurants forced to scale back operations in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s now up to DeSantis to sign a compromise the Legislature reached on the industry-backed measure (SB 148) codifying much of that order. The bill includes limits on restaurants that can sell alcoholic drinks with take-home and delivery orders.

Last year, he endorsed making the rule permanent.

“I’m for it being permanent, and I think that you’ll probably get a pretty good reception in the Legislature just based on the experience and just based off everyone having to go through what you guys have gone through,” he said.

The version approved by lawmakers, and sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley, passed the Senate unanimously before passing the House 111-1. Polk City Republican Rep. Josie Tomkow carried the measure through the lower chamber.

The agreement would cut off the sale of to-go drinks — mixed or in bottles — when restaurants’ scheduled food service ends for the day or at midnight, whichever occurs first.

Drinks would need to be placed in secured containers and placed in locked compartments, vehicle trunks or in areas behind the last upright seats in vehicles. Restaurants would be prohibited from including alcoholic drinks in orders being delivered by people under age 21.

The to-go option would be available to restaurants that have special alcoholic-beverage licenses and derive at least 51% of their  revenue from food and non-alcoholic sales. For restaurants with regular “quota” licenses, food and non-alcoholic drinks would have to account for 60% of the orders.

A coalition of influential business groups, like Uber, also backed the bill. Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association General Counsel Samantha Padgett told lawmakers in February the proposed legislation offered a “lifeline” for restaurants.

“This is an issue of survival. The hospitality industry has been devastated by the pandemic,” Padgett said. “Some restaurants have closed, and they may never come back. For many that are hanging on and hanging in, alcohol to-go has made all the difference.”

Mixed drinks were a late addition when the Department of Business and Professional Regulation issued its emergency order allowing restaurants to send alcoholic beverages out with to-go food orders. DBPR initially declined to open the door for drinks to-go, but the department and the industry envisioned restaurants needing the high profit margins they see on drinks such as margaritas.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle see the current policy as a positive trial run for permanent legislation.

However, the current drinks to-go authorization ends when the pandemic state of emergency ends in late June, driving the need for a permanent bill. With his latest extension to the emergency order, DeSantis signaled it could be the state of emergency’s final extension.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.



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