Florida House keeps chipping away at ‘Liquor Wall’


A heavily lobbied measure intended to knock down a decades-old prohibition on selling liquor in grocery and large retail stores narrowly continued to advance in the House on Tuesday.

The Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee voted 7-6 to support an amended proposal (HB 81) that would end a Depression-era law requiring liquor stores and bars to be separated from groceries and other retail goods, an issue commonly referred to as the “liquor wall.”

RELATED: More Florida Legislature coverage

The contentious bill - sought by Wal-Mart and Target and opposed by Publix and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits - needs to make it through one more committee in the House and awaits a floor vote in the Senate (SB 106).

House sponsor Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah, rejected claims by opponents that his legislation, three years in the making, will increase access to liquor by minors and harm existing businesses.

“While shopping at Publix is a pleasure, certainly their argument is not,” Avila said. “The only reason the antiquated law is being opposed is to maintain the status quo.”

Before the vote, Avila proposed an amendment that would sort alcohol licenses into two categories, one for businesses that seek to remain stand-alone for liquor, the other imposing fees - based on county population - for those that want to sell liquor in the same stores as other goods.

Avila said he’s also considering additional changes for when the proposal goes to the Commerce Committee. That could include requiring cashiers to be 18 or older when liquor is purchased and increasing penalties on businesses that are found selling to minors.

He also indicated he is open to proposals in the Senate bill that would require small bottles, 6.8 ounces or less, to be displayed only behind the counter and phasing in the law over a four-year period.

Still, the House bill, which appeared to stall a week ago, remains controversial for many.

“The losers are clearly going to be the small businesses,” said Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Treasure Island Republican who voted against the bill.

Thomas Culligan, representing Publix, said in opposing the measure that the supermarket chain may be able to support a delayed implementation. Publix has opened stand-alone liquor stores in many shopping centers that also include grocery stores.

“We’ve invested so much in the stores that we have built out in the state,” Culligan said. “We also have a number of leases that we’d like to see expire if this does happen.”

Pat McClellan, owner of the Flora-Bama lounge and package store in the Panhandle, said the change would result in a greater ability for minors to get their hands on liquor and would lead to more impulse-buying of alcohol.

“It ain’t right to put the apple schnapps next to the apple sauce,” McClellan said.

Proponents contend abolishing the “outdated” law is necessary to provide more convenience to shoppers, reduce regulations and save money for businesses.

Joseph Salzverg, a lobbyist for Target, said the change would allow the Minnesota-based company to meet customers’ needs and expectations.

“The way Target structures their business model is a racetrack type of shopping,” Salzverg said. “That’s why we don’t currently operate bifurcated stores in the state of Florida.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

FAU uses new state money to increase summer courses, hire deans
FAU uses new state money to increase summer courses, hire deans

Florida universities are hiring more faculty, providing more scholarships and expanding course offerings and academic counseling with a $121 million boost in funding provided by the Legislature this year. In letters to Gov. Rick Scott, the 12 state university presidents outlined plans for using their shares of $71 million in the “world class...
Florida Gov. Scott says he didn’t serve in Navy ‘to defend neo-Nazis’
Florida Gov. Scott says he didn’t serve in Navy ‘to defend neo-Nazis’

Florida’s governor and attorney general, both strong supporters of President Donald Trump, decried racism and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as reverberations continued Wednesday across the country after a deadly weekend in Charlottesville, Va. “I served in the Navy. My dad served in the Second World War,&rdquo...
AG Jeff Sessions visits Miami to blast Chicago on ‘sanctuary city’ policy
AG Jeff Sessions visits Miami to blast Chicago on ‘sanctuary city’ policy

Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Miami. MIAMI — Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to town to commend Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez for cooperating with the federal government by holding jail inmates who have been targeted for deportation, but most of Sessions’ remarks were aimed...
Latvala launches gov campaign, demurs on Trump Charlottesville remarks
Latvala launches gov campaign, demurs on Trump Charlottesville remarks

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, formally rolled out his Republican bid for governor here Wednesday by drawing contrasts with current Republican Gov. Rick Scott and GOP primary foe Adam Putnam but declining to weigh in on President Donald Trump’s remarks about Charlottesville. Latvala cast himself as both an old-school Republican and a...
UF says no to white nationalist speaker Richard Spencer
UF says no to white nationalist speaker Richard Spencer

The University of Florida is refusing to allow white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to speak on campus next month, citing “serious concerns” about safety in the aftermath of a deadly weekend clash in Charlottesville, Va. In a message to staff Wednesday morning, university President Kent Fuchs said the decision to deny the National Policy...
More Stories