Advocates for repealing Florida’s Prohibition-era laws separating alcohol and grocery sales scored a significant victory Wednesday from a House committee.
House Business and Professions Subcommittee passed HB 107, a proposal from Sarasota Republican state Rep. Greg Steube seeking to repeal the law preventing liquor stores and retailers from selling spirits in the same aisle as beer and wine.
Floridians for Fair Business Practices (FFBP), supporters of Steube’s bill, calls the separation requirement, on the books since 1935, an “archaic law that stifles Florida businesses.”
During the committee hearing, several industry representatives testified that free market, safety, and consumer convenience should be the primary considerations when supporting the removal of regulatory (and literal) walls standing between liquor and grocery stores.
Christian Camara, Florida director of the Libertarian think tank R Street Institute, said that although it is government’s responsibility to provide public safety, businesses that already sell alcoholic beverages should not have to incur the “enormous expense of essentially erecting a standalone store” to sell other spirits.
Chris Hudson, Florida director of Americans for Prosperity, said the repeal decreases regulations and gets government out of the way.
“It’s their responsibility to maintain businesses and keep safety at the forefront,” Hudson told the committee. “It is also their responsibility to adapt their model in the current time.”
Richard Turner, general counsel and vice president of government relations for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, added that it was time to adopt “common sense legislation” regarding the issue.
“Beverage laws aren’t keeping up with realties of the marketplace, Turner said. “They no longer serve a purpose, or the purpose has been lost.”
In preparation for the committee hearing, Floridians for Fair Business Practices conducted interviews with several Florida retail customers on the issue of safety.
Among the responses: “I would feel a lot more safe if I bought my liquor in a grocery store … More well-lit building, more security cameras, plenty of staff around … It’s about safety. Safety is the most important thing.”
The FFBP also provided video of some of the interviews, which is available on YouTube.
A number of law enforcement officials also appeared in support of Steube’s bill.
“Allowing spirits to be sold in the same aisle as beer and wine is actually an incredible deterrent issue,” said Niceville Police Chief David Popwell. “In larger retail stores, there is much more security — more cashiers, more managers, more loss prevention officers to monitor activities. An underage child is not going to be stealing liquor in this type of environment.”
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, in a Feb. 16 article from the Tampa Bay Times, said he is not convinced that separation is a matter of public safety.
Gualtieri “doesn’t think minors will have any easier access to alcohol with whiskey and vodka in the grocery aisles,” the article goes. “‘It’s not a public safety issue.’”