TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Floridians may soon be able to buy bourbon and bacon in the same place under a bill moving quickly through the state Legislature.
A Senate panel on Thursday voted in favor of a bill that repeals a decades-old prohibition on grocery stores and other retailers from being able to also sell hard liquor in the same location. The measure (SB 106) now heads to the full Senate.
Many other states already allow grocery stores to sell liquor such as vodka or rum next to other items. But in Florida liquor must be sold in a separate location that is not connected. Grocery stores are allowed to sell beer and wine.
The liquor-wall measure, which has failed to advance in past sessions, pits retailers Wal-Mart and Target, both in favor of repealing the Depression-era law, against supermarket giant Publix and liquor-store chain ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater Republican, said he opposes the measure as it would allow 16-years-olds who work in grocery stores to have access to liquor. He said he’s never heard anyone complain “about a lack of access to alcoholic beverages.”
“We’ve had a process set up that nobody cares about, except a couple of large international corporations who want to get into that business in Florida in their stores,” Latvala said.
Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who also voted against the bill, withdrew an amendment — after NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer objected — that would have allowed counties to ask voters if businesses that sell firearms and ammunition should be prohibited from also selling liquor.
“The box stores are the only place in a lot of these rural areas where residents can buy guns and ammunition,” Hammer told the committee. “If you give the ability to a box store, that is profit oriented, to decide whether or not to give up guns, so that they can sell hard liquor in those stores, I’m afraid that’s going to be to the detriment of people who want to exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Because these box stores are going to opt for the profit margin every time.”
The committee rejected a proposal by Latvala that would have required county governments to further allow the “wall to come down.”
“Different parts of our state have different mores,” Latvala said. “Some places in Florida you still can’t buy alcohol on a Sunday.”
The committee, however, approved an amendment that would require small bottles, 6.8 ounces or less, to be displayed only behind the counter.
Despite intense media and lobbying attention on the liquor bill, sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami, acknowledged the proposal isn’t among the “top 10 or top 100,” issues facing the Legislature.
“I look forward to the passage of this bill and not having to deal a whole lot more with this issue once it passes the Senate,” Flores said.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.