By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Opponents have mobilized to try to convince Gov. Rick Scott to veto a bill that would a repeal a decades-old law requiring hard spirits to be sold in separate facilities from groceries and other goods — an issue that has become known as the “liquor wall.”
But Scott, who faces a Wednesday deadline to decide whether to sign, veto or let the measure become law without his signature, hasn’t indicated what he’ll do with the proposal (SB 106), backed by retailers such as Target and Walmart.
Members of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, which, along with Publix Super Markets and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, opposed the repeal, have stepped up the pro-veto movement since the House narrowly signed off of the measure — in a 58-57 vote — on April 26.
Meanwhile, Floridians For Fair Business Practices, which includes Walmart and Target, has urged to urge Scott to sign the bill.
The governor’s office as of Friday had received 2,674 emails, 570 letters and 235 calls in opposition to the bill since lawmakers gave approval, according to Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone. Another 3,245 names were submitted via petitions collected at independent liquor stores.
The governor’s office during the same period had also received 434 phone calls, 320 emails and seven letters that voiced support for the bill.
“He seems to be a pro-business governor, but I really don’t know what his mindset is,” said Mike Doolan, a manager at Market Square Liquors in Tallahassee.
Opponents argue the change would hurt small liquor stores, eliminate jobs, result in a greater ability for minors to get liquor and lead to more impulse-buying of alcohol.
“Walmart has a competitive edge,” Doolan said. “They buy in such large quantities, that there is no way the person with two or three liquor stores can compete with them price-wise.”
Proponents counter that the policy promotes a free market and provide more convenience to shoppers. They also dispute the argument about minors getting access to liquor, saying minors are more likely to get alcohol at home.
Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who sponsored the bill, said the existing law is “antiquated.”
“The current alcohol separation law in the state of Florida is outdated and creates an uneven playing field for retailers,” Flores said in a statement last week. “Repealing this law will bring Florida into the modern era, and allows us to join the majority of the country that puts retailers and the entrepreneurial spirit first. SB 106 is about knocking down the arbitrary wall and applauding competition and a fair marketplace.”
The measure got through the Senate in a 21-17 vote on March 23.
The issue has been heavily lobbied in the Capitol in recent years. If approved by Scott, the bill would affect the business models of retailers on both sides of the debate.
Along with the independent liquor stores and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Publix has been involved because it operates stand-alone liquor stores in many of the same shopping centers as its grocery stores. Meanwhile, retailers such as Target, Walmart and Costco want to be able to sell liquor in the same stores where shoppers pick up groceries and other goods.
In addition to repealing the Depression-era law, the bill would prohibit new package stores from being licensed within 1,000 feet of schools; require small bottles, 6.8 ounces or less, to be displayed only behind the counter; and require that checkout clerks under the age of 18 be supervised by people 18 or older when alcohol is being purchased.
The measure also includes a provision that could benefit Sam’s Club and Costco by carving out businesses with more than 10,000 square-feet of retail space from a prohibition on the state issuing liquor licenses to gas stations where beer and wine may be sold.
To help Publix with its existing leases, the bill would stagger the repeal, limiting the percentage of liquor that could be stocked in chain stores over a four-year period.
— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.