Senate Leaves Door Open In Liquor, Groceries Debate

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — A Senate bill would reduce travel time for shoppers looking for liquor and groceries but keep up a  wall between them.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Wednesday scaled back a proposal (SB 468) that initially sought to eliminate an 80-year-old state law requiring liquor stores to be stand-alone facilities.

Instead, the bill now would require liquor and other retail products, such as groceries, to remain separate, while providing customers more direct access through doors when the locations abut.

“All this does is keep a person from having to go out into the rain,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who proposed the substitute measure.

The initial bill and the revised measure have drawn opposition from independent liquor stores, some county sheriffs and Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets. Meanwhile, support for the initial proposal and the door option has come from free-market groups and retailers including Wal-Mart and Target, which say their customers are looking for increased convenience.

Bill sponsor Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said after Wednesday’s meeting that the revised proposal was a compromise.

“After listening to everyone, trying to find an alternative solution that worked for everyone, particularly the consumer, that’s how we got to where we are,” Grimsley said.

But Publix lobbyist Teye Reeves said after the meeting that the grocer intends to continue opposing the measure.

“I’ve talked to every member of the committee about what Publix’s position was,” said Reeves who didn’t speak at the meeting.

Publix has opposed the elimination of the state’s separation law because the company’s business model has been to separate its liquor stores from the main grocery operations.

The door option would be similar to many garden centers that accompany businesses such as Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement. However, committee staff said state law would prohibit shoppers from using the liquor-store registers for their grocery purchases, and the grocery-store registers for liquor buys.

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who voted against the door option, said the existing law has worked and that he is concerned the measure could increase liquor consumption.

“I just want to be mindful of how powerful the substance of alcohol can be,” Bean said.

Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, a Boynton Beach Democrat who backed the door option, put his faith in the security at giant retailers to reduce concerns about increased theft of liquor by minors.

“If somebody is going to commit a crime, the surveillance in a small mom-and-pop store is nowhere near the multimillion-dollar systems that I’m aware that most of our big-box retailers have,” Abruzzo said.

Before approving the door option, the committee rejected a proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, that would have kept the state’s separation law in place. Latvala’s proposal would have simply allowed liquor deliveries to be made from the loading docks at grocery and big box stores, with the bottles transported through the stores to adjacent liquor stores.

Grimsley’s proposal has two more committee stops before it could reach the Senate floor.

(The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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