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Spirited Battle Ahead over Florida's Liquor Separation Law

March 10, 2015 - 7:00pm

Floridians for Fair Business Practices (FFBP) is gathering in the state capital, mustering forces to try to convince Florida legislators to repeal what they claim is an outdated state law that forces customers to leave a retail establishment in order to purchase spirits from a separate store.

The coalition is supporting HB 107, sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, which includes language that would repeal what is know as the "alcohol separation law."

Two additional bills filed in January -- HB 499 by Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven and Senate Bill 468 by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, also deal with the alcohol separation issue.

The issue is expected to heat up next week.

If passed, the bills would repeal the antiquated 1935 law and allow spirits to be sold in the same aisle as beer and wine, should independent liquor stores and retailers choose that option.

The coalition is comprised of some heavy hitters -- retail groups like Target and Walmart and business groups including Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Supporters of these bills say the problems with the current law begin and end with too much regulation; the law restricts consumer access to alcoholic beverages by requiring liquor to be sold in a location, separate from groceries and other goods, they say.

But the proposed bills have weighty opposition from ABC Liquors and the Florida Independent Spirits Association (FISA).

In 2014, FISA helped defeat a similar bill proposed by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

FISA claims its main concern is public safety. By removing these current restrictions, it says, liquor could be sold in grocery stores, big box stores, pharmacies -- on the same aisles as items marketed to minors.

But Floridians for Fair Business Practices disagrees, pointing to a pair of surveys they say shows the old law isn't needed.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the majority of underage drinkers -- those between the ages of 12 and 20 -- 60 percent reported getting their alcohol from adults, such as parents, guardians, other family members or unrelated adults.

FFBP also refers to a 2011 study, the Centers for Disease Controls Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which shows that 40 percent of students who reported past-month consumption, claimed they usually obtained the alcohol they drank from someone who gave it to them.

FFBP also points out that Florida is one of only 20 states still with a separation law. And the law is both an inconvenience to consumers and costly to merchants.

Overall, FFBP says, its bill would help Florida retailers provide customer convenience, reduce business costs in eliminating unnecessary requirements, and promote fair business practices and competition.

It is important to address the needs of retailers and their customers in the state, Steube stated.

The bill has bipartisan support. Along with several Republicans, there is support from such Democrats as Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation and Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee.

A Voter Consumer Research poll of 601 likely voters conducted between Jan. 29 and Feb. 2, 2014, showed that 8 of 10 respondents believe it is a matter of convenience for consumers to have the ability to purchase spirits in the same store where they buy beer, wine and other grocery items. Three out of 4 also believe a repeal of the separation requirement would increase competition and choice for consumers, creating convenience and lower prices.

Ed Dean, a senior editor with Sunshine State News, whose talk show can be heard on radio stations across Florida, can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @eddeanradio

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