“House panel kills ‘Whiskey and Wheaties’ bill”
This was the headline from the The Tampa Tribune last week. For the second year in a row, Florida Independent Spirits Association led the charge to defeat Walmart and it’s attempt to put hard liquor on grocery store shelves.
The bill was voted down in the House Regulatory Affairs committee on Tuesday April 14, 2105. The bill was an attempt to by Walmart and Target to repeal an 80-year-old state law requiring retailers to sell hard liquor in a separate store away from grocery and other goods.
“There was no public policy in this bill, merely corporate greed,” said Rory Eggers, President of the Florida Independent Spirits Association. “Those large corporations were trying to change our state laws to fit their business model.”
History of the “Walmart Bill”
In 2014, Senator Bill Galvano (R), Bradenton, introduced a proposed bill that would remove language from current Florida Law requiring a separate entrance and separation wall for liquor stores. Current statute mandates that all liquor stores have a separate outside entrance, and the floor space for hard liquor must be separated by a wall from any other retail space. Removing these current restrictions would allow liquor to be sold in grocery stores, big box stores, pharmacies, etc. The legislation was introduced at the behest of Walmart, and was aptly referred to in Tallahassee as the “Walmart Bill.”
The 2014 bills (a similar bill was proposed in the House) never made it through the committee process, due in large part to the efforts of Florida Independent Spirits Association. We effectively demonstrated to Legislators that allowing hard liquor inside grocery stores and big box stores (Walmart, Target, Winn Dixie, Walgreen’s, CVS, etc.) was a public safety issue, essentially providing easier access to alcohol by those under the age of 21.
Our argument is simple, yet sound. When a minor enters a liquor store, they immediately raise a red flag. In fact, a large number of Florida liquor stores do not allow anyone under the age of 21 inside the store. However, a teenager is a welcomed customer inside grocery stores and big box stores, and typically make up a large percentage of their employee base. If the hard liquor is not separated and monitored as it is today, the opportunity for theft is dramatically increased.
Under longstanding current law, if Walmart or any other grocery store chain wants to sell liquor, they are required to set up a separate entrance to a separate store where consumers can go in and purchase that liquor in a controlled setting from a clerk trained to ensure that minors don’t get access to the alcohol. Independently owned liquor stores have long operated successfully under these laws. Since independent liquor stores sell only alcohol-related items, their focus is consistently on keeping hard liquor out of the hands of children. Many of the independent stores are family owned, passed down from generation to generation. Upholding the law is a way of life for them, and quite often their livelihood depends on it. They employ thousands of workers in Florida who support their families by working the front counter, stocking shelves, watching the door, and checking IDs so that kids can’t get their hands on their products.
The 2015 Legislative session is starting next week and once again Walmart has pushed the same proposed legislation, this time in the form of House Bill 107. HB 107, by Representative Greg Steube (R), Sarasota, is a COMPREHENSIVE alcohol beverage bill, that includes not only Walmart & Target’s package store repeal language, but also language that addresses the craft brewery and craft distillery issues. The bill passed out of the House & Professions Sub-Committee by a vote of 9-4 on Wednesday February 18th. The bill’s passage was not necessarily a vote in favor of the issue, but rather a courtesy vote for the sponsor and a vote in favor of the craft brewery issues. The bill will now have two additional committee stops, the House Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and the Regulatory Affairs Committee.