'Whiskey and Wheaties Bill' narrowly passes Florida Senate

The liquor wall is closer to coming down in Florida.

A proposal nicknamed the 'Whiskey and Wheaties Bill' (SB 106) allowing grocery stores, big box retailers and other stores to sell liquor in the same space as other products was approved by the Florida Senate in a 21-17 vote on Thursday. Currently, liquor must be sold in a side store which is separated by a wall.

Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican who was the bill's sponsor, said it eliminates an antiquated provision that's been around since Prohibition.

"We still believe this law from December of 1934 is appropriate in a time when I can pull out my smartphone and order alcohol and have it delivered it to me? You're talking about a wall between two forms of the same product," added Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican.

Sen. Daphne Campbell said she voted no because it might make liquor more accessible to teenagers.

"High school kids are going to go on breaks for lunch and be able to buy alcohol. They could die while driving back to school or be arrested for DUI," said Campbell, a Miami Democrat.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council, Florida would become the 28th state to allow the sale of liquor alongside wine and beer. The measure must still be approved by the House, where an identical bill has reached the floor.

If it's signed into law, the phase-in period would be gradual. The earliest that stores such as Target and Walmart could add liquor to their shelves would be 2018. Even then they could only add it to a quarter of their stores each year until it was totally phased in by 2021.

Jason Unger, a lobbyist representing Target, said population growth would be a factor in deciding which stores could receive licenses. One new license is available for every 7,500 residents that move into a county. If new licenses were not available, a business would have to wait for one to become open.

"People want to have the convenience and ability to shop for spirits in a safe, clean environment," Unger said. "In other states where we have this, customer satisfaction is way up."

The bill also prohibits stores from selling liquor within 1,000 feet of schools. Mini bottles, like the ones available on airplanes, would have to be stored and sold behind a counter. It also states that individuals selling liquor must be 18 or older.

Kiran Patel, who owns liquor stores in Palm Bay and Melbourne, said the bill could eventually mean the end of small, family liquor stores.

"Right now it is healthy competition because it is still possible to compete when they have separate stores," Patel said. "As an individual if you want a bottle after work you are not going to Walmart. We are there for the convenience. If this happens, we are finished. They already sell below cost because of how much they can buy."


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