Governor Rick Scott today vetoed SB 106, known as the “Liquor Wall” or “Whiskey and Wheaties” bill, relating to the sale of alcoholic beverages. To view the veto letter Governor Scott sent to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, click HERE.
In this morning’s edition of the Sun Sentinel, their Editorial Board authored an editorial urging Governor Scott to sign SB 106, which would send a message that Florida is continuing to create an environment where businesses can thrive by removing burdensome regulations.
This is the second editorial the Sun Sentinel has published supporting SB 106. Other news outlets that have also voiced their support for “tearing down the wall” include the Orlando Sentinel, Tallahassee Democrat, and the Daytona Beach News Journal.
Floridians for Fair Business Practices believes the Sun Sentinel is correct when it says, “SB 106 gets it right and gives consumers more choice. It deserves to become law.”
We urge Governor Scott to support the free market and sign SB 106 into law.
Gov. Rick Scott, tear down that liquor wall
Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
May 23, 2017
Gov. Rick Scott is weighing whether to sign a bill that would lift Florida’s Prohibition-era ban on selling liquor alongside beer and wine at grocery stores.
By today, the governor must decide whether to veto the “Whiskey and Wheaties” bill, sign it into law or let it become law without his signature.
We encourage Gov. Scott to sign Senate Bill 106 and put an end to the outdated “liquor wall” regulation. In making his decision, he should be guided by free market principles, doing what’s best for consumers and ending needless government regulations.
Other than protecting certain businesses, what sense does it make to allow beer and wine sales in a grocery store, but force people to go next door to buy a bottle of spirits?
You can understand the concerns of independent liquor store owners, who fear new competition from big-box stores will put them out of business. We’re not unsympathetic to their plight. It reminds us of the fight taxi drivers waged to try to keep Uber from disrupting their businesses. But consumers wanted change and lawmakers listened.
The other concern comes from chain stores like Publix, which have already built standalone liquor stores at some locations. Their lobbyists say tearing down the “liquor wall” will give minors easier access to alcohol. It’s the same argument we heard some years back when retailers tried to preserve the ban that prevented you from shipping yourself a case of wine. They said a child might answer the door and imbibe.
If this bill becomes law, Florida would become the 28th state to let retailers sell hard liquor alongside beer and wine. Surely Florida retailers can learn from the experience elsewhere.
In California, for example, independent liquor stores have focused on higher-end items and a greater selection than what can be found on grocery shelves. Neither has the Golden State reported an uptick in minors stealing alcohol.
Besides, is it good public policy to keep an outdated regulation because a child might shoplift?
The “Whiskey and Wheaties” bill has been controversial from the start. It passed the Senate, 21-17, and the House by a single vote. Three House members voted “no” after the roll call was recorded, but they were too late to make a difference.
It’s a sad commentary that with so many crucial issues facing Florida, the “liquor wall” became one of the session’s most hotly-contested issues.
Large retail outlets, including Wal-Mart, Target and Costco, are behind the push. Yes, it would benefit them. But it also would benefit consumers.
To ease the pain, the bill calls for a phase-in period. Big-box stores couldn’t add hard liquor before next year. And then, they can only add it to a quarter of their stores. reaching total phase-in by 2021.
The bill also prohibits new package stores from being licensed within 1,000 feet of schools. And it requires mini-liquor bottles to be displayed behind the counter to deter theft. And it requires that for alcohol transactions, adults must supervise checkout clerks younger than 18.
Most gas stations also would be banned from selling spirits, with an exception granted to those with more than 10,000 square feet of retail space.
SB 106 gets it right and gives consumers more choice. It deserves to become law.
Over the weekend, you may have missed a timely column authored by the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board, entitled “Our Opinion: ‘Liquor Wall’ a Relic that Needs to Come Down.”
In the column, the editorial board voices support for tearing down the alcohol separation wall through Senator Anitere Flores’ bill, SB106 – citing an evolving society as a reason to repeal the antiquated, Prohibition era law.
Our opinion: ‘Liquor wall’ a relic that needs to come down
By: Tallahassee Democrat Editorial Board
Normally sensible legislators can make all kinds of laws about crime, education, transportation or taxation – but they seem to get a little tipsy when the topic is alcohol.
Spurred by the public’s thirst and their own appetite for the revenue “sin taxes” contribute to state coffers, state legislators have chipped away at liquor laws over the past 80-plus years. They left some local options, for communities that want to regulate the time, place and type of alcohol sales they will allow. But tourism-dependent Florida doesn’t really have the kind of “wet” and “dry” controversies that legislators in many states have had since the demise of Prohibition.
There is, however, one relic of the Noble Experiment still affecting our booze market – the requirement that liquor stores have a separate entrance from regular retail establishments. They call it the “liquor wall” down at the Capitol, where the move to repeal the separation rule this year is a textbook example of special-interest legislating.
There has been no great public clamor from citizens who feel oppressed by having to walk out of Walmart or Target, go 50 feet down the sidewalk, and enter the store’s liquor store when they want to buy a bottle. The “big box” stores just want to put the hard stuff on shelves next to their beer and wine, making shopping and restocking more efficient. The liquor store operators, like ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, have lobbied for years to make things the way they are – and don’t want the big boys to muscle into a bigger share of the market.
It’s not exactly the Capone gang fighting Bugs Moran for control of some speakeasies. But in an era when you can order online and have a bottle delivered, the idea of walling off liquor stores from the rest of a big market seems like an almost charming anachronism.
There is one good argument against the bill (SB 106) by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, that would tear down the alcohol wall. At a Senate committee hearing last month, ABC’s chief executive and some lobbyists for independent dealers said shoplifting is a lot easier in the big box stores. You can’t stuff a six pack of beer, or a case, under your jacket and kids don’t want wine, but a flask-like bottle fits easily into a pocket.
Minors aren’t allowed in a liquor store alone, and are very conspicuous when they come in with an adult. Plus, those stores have more employees and security cameras per square foot to guard against theft.
But those superstores are national chains, and their locations in states without the separate-door requirement have not reported any major problems with liquor thefts.
Since the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, for more than a century, state and federal legislators have had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. Governments need the revenue and people want to drink – but nobody feels real good about it. Politicians like to say you can’t legislate morality, but that doesn’t stop many of them from trying.
Here in Tallahassee, alcohol regulation has a storied history, much of it probably embellished in the retelling. The fabled Silver Slipper restaurant, long gone now, used to have little rooms off of its main floor, where lobbyists and legislators could pull a curtain and cut some deals. Privacy was important, not just for the subject matter under discussion.
At various times, many places had “brown bagging.” Waiters, who had no idea what patrons had in those little sacks, would bring a glass of ice and a pitcher of water, Coke or ginger ale. We can only wonder how much of Florida history was shaped at Wakulla Lodge, which financier Ed Ball built to entertain the state’s decision-makers of a long-gone era.
Back before the legislative gift ban, there was the famous “beer fairy,” who’d leave a case at a legislator’s doorstep every morning of the session. In fact, when South Florida legislators tried to move the Capitol to Orlando, one of the reasons local members were able to stop them was that Leon County had finally gone wet. (Another reason was that Big Bend legislators had real power back then.)
Innocent children are not going to be scarred by the sight of a Jack Daniels label, next to a row of beer and wine on a grocery shelf, if the Flores bill passes. Nor will keeping the alcohol wall, and requiring customers to make a second stop in their shopping, impede law-abiding adults who are buying their booze.
It’s not going to affect drinking habits or state revenues but, on balance, we’d say it’s time to scrap this hangover from a long-gone, more innocent age.
Floridians for Fair Business Practices is a coalition of retailers and business groups whose purpose is to identify rules and regulations, which prohibit the growth and expansion of Florida business. For additional information, please visit to www.FairBizinFlorida.com.