TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The long-standing liquor wall, which was been around since Prohibition ended, is facing the wrecking ball under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.
After two days of debate, the House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the Senate’s bill (SB 106) by one vote. It is the first time since at least 2000 that a bill in the House has been decided by a vote, according to Lobbytools, a service that tracks Florida bills.
The bill allows grocery stores, big box retailers and other stores to sell liquor in the same space as other products. Currently, liquor must be sold in a side store separated by a wall.
Lauren Schenoe from the governor’s office said Scott, who is returning Thursday from a trade visit to Argentina, is reviewing the bill.
“Any debate that includes the topic of alcohol is going to be tense and contentious,” said Rep. Bryan Avila. “This issue is one that I feel is not a religious or social issue, it is one of an outdated policy.”
The Distilled Spirits Council says Florida would become the 28th state to allow the sale of liquor alongside wine and beer.
Independent liquor store owners have opposed the bill because they say it would drive them out of business. Amit Dashondi, of Melbourne, was one of nearly 60 owners at the Capitol. He hopes the governor will veto the bill.
“What happened is not right and will impact the small business owners,” Dashondi said.
If signed into law, the phase-in period would be gradual. The earliest stores such as Target and Wal-Mart 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 is totally phased in by 2021.
Publix, which has some stand-alone liquor stores attached to some of its supermarkets, could also opt to add liquor to its grocery aisles, which is why it has been nicknamed the “Whiskey and Wheaties Bill.” Publix though was against the bill because of how easily minors could have access to alcohol.
Obtaining a license might also be an issue. 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 available.
Over one-third of independent liquor stores in Florida are in plazas that have a big box retailers or supermarkets. Dashondi, whose three stores are in a plaza that has a Publix, fears his business could vanish.
Wednesday’s vote will come under more scrutiny after three people voted no after roll call and another switched their vote from yes to no. Michael Corcoran, the brother of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, lobbies for Wal-Mart. Richard Corcoran voted for the bill.
The bill also prohibits stores from selling liquor within 1,000 feet of schools. Mini bottles, most commonly 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.
Chris Knightly, whose family owns five liquor stores in Orlando, said he worries about his 24 workers and that customers won’t have access to a variety of local spirits since large retailers often go for the top brands.
“Not only is this affecting local shops but also local breweries and distilleries,” he said. “These changes will be a 1 or 2 percent in their bottom line, for us it is 100 percent of our livelihood. Our entire family could be wiped out.”