Plan allowing liquor sales in grocery stories to be tweaked

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – A controversial proposal that would allow liquor to be sold in grocery stores was nearly capped in its first House committee as lawmakers expressed concerns about who could handle the bottles.

The House Career & Competition Subcommittee voted 8-7 Wednesday to approve the proposal (HB 81), but Rep. Bryan Avila, the bill’s sponsor, said he would try to change the plan before its next committee vetting.

“There is plenty of time to make sure we get the right fit in place,” Avila, R-Hialeah, told reporters after the meeting.

The contentious and heavily lobbied proposal – sought by Wal-Mart and Target, and opposed by Lakeland-based Publix and Orlando-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits – seeks to 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.”

A wider ranging measure (SB 106) that also seeks to end the separation is ready for a full Senate vote.

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

Illegal access?
Opponents argue, among other things, that the change will drive independent liquor stores of business and result in minors illegally getting access to liquor.

Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican who voted against the plan, said he hasn’t heard from a single individual complaining about an inability to get liquor in Florida. And he said the measure should be closer to a compromise struck last year, but which failed to pass, that would have maintained a current prohibition banning anyone under the age of 21 from handling or selling alcohol.

“I think (this) bill is even worse,” Gonzalez said.  “Now you’re telling me that a 16-year-old can sell alcohol, under supervision.”

Target lobbyist Jason Unger said the Minnesota-based company wants to provide shoppers with more convenience. And Monesia Brown, who represents Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, said the company is trying to be innovative.

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