Divided Senate backs ending 'liquor wall'

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  • | 12:00 p.m. March 24, 2017
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A heavily lobbied proposal to knock down a Depression-era ban on liquor being sold alongside groceries narrowly survived the Senate on Thursday, after a passionate debate that included some opponents warning the change could make alcohol more accessible to, or even “kill,” children.

The so-called “liquor wall” measure (SB 106), which must still get House approval, was approved in a 21-17 vote. Sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami, defended her bill at one point by saying, “this is not going to kill anybody. No one is going to die if this bill passes or not.”

The issue has led to repeated legislative battles in recent years, pitting Wal-Mart and Target, which want to stock liquor on shelves near other goods, against Publix and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, which have stand-alone liquor stores as part of their corporate blueprints.

Flores called the law requiring stand-alone liquor stores “antiquated.”

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the 1934 law doesn’t reflect “contemporary life” in which people can order home delivery of liquor through apps on their phones.

Wal-Mart and Target lobbyists say the change is needed to meet customers’ demands and convenience.

In asking lawmakers to reject the proposal, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said “large corporate citizens want us to do it (approve the bill) for their own economic purposes.”

Latvala’s comment caused Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, to fire back, in a speech that ended with him dropping a live microphone on his desk, by saying, “We talk about who is pushing it, but we know who is pushing against it too, Sen. Latvala. We know who’s pushing against it real hard.”

Opponents argue the change will impact small liquor stores, eliminate jobs, result in a greater ability for minors to get liquor and lead to more impulse-buying of alcohol.

Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, argued that she couldn’t support “a bill that is going to kill my own youngsters.”

“How can I do this, to come here and vote for a bill where children or the high school students, going to the store when they have a break to eat lunch, and (they’re) going to buy alcohol,” Campbell said. And “while they’re driving back to school and they die or they get arrested for DUI.”

The proposal would stagger the repeal of the law over several years; prohibit new package stores from being licensed within 1,000 feet of schools; and require that small bottles, 6.8 ounces or less, be displayed only behind the counter.

Also, the measure would require checkout clerks under the age of 18 to be supervised.