New Florida law could bring hard liquor to local grocery stores

TAMPA, Fla.  (WFLA) – It’s a hot button issue in Tallahassee right now.  Floridians may soon be able to buy their Wheaties and their whiskey in the same place under a bill that is moving quickly through the state legislature.

So could this become a reality?

Earlier this month, a Senate panel voted in favor of a bill that repeals a decades-old prohibition on grocery stores and other retailers from selling hard liquor in the same location.

Sunday morning, Teresa Miller, a recovery activist and Richard Blau, an attorney whose firm represents Target, stopped by the News Channel 8 studios to debate the issue.

We asked them if there’s a need to change the law in the first place and whether the current law is too antiquated or would changing the law be caving into public pressure.

“Maybe the big box stores that want this but not our community,” said Miller.  “We clearly, if you want alcohol, you can get it at multiple venues in our state.”

Blau disagrees.  “I think that big-box retailers as well as the other advocates that are in favor of the legislation would say that they want it for consumers, that consumers are always capable of making the choices that what they want to buy but this gives them the opportunity to buy what they want in one place and not have to go to many different locations,” he told News Channel 8’s Paul Mueller.  “And is that a good or a bad thing to be able to buy it one place?”

“It’ll be in the grocery stores, in my opinion, as though it makes alcohol the sixth food group,” Miller said.  “We don’t need it there.  We need it separate because if someone is in recovery, they have to make a conscious decision to go in there.”

“A lot of big-box retailers already operate side-by-side stores with liquor stores so as you said, it’s just a matter of going around the wall,” Blau said.  “Why have the wall there?  Why go through the expense of building separate facilities?  These grocery stores that already sell beer and wine have licenses and they’re not going to jeopardize losing their licenses by failing to take proper precautions.”

Miller says that after her recent trip to Tallahassee to speak with lawmakers and how quickly she sees this progressing, she believes, ”I don’t really think that consumers are really wanting this.  None of my friends know this is there.  Now that I’m aware that this bill is passing so quickly, these legislators are going to be hearing from their constituents and it won’t be that they want this.”

Last year, the bill passed the Senate and not the House.  Some political experts say we should expect to the same this year.

Local liquor stores like ABC Fine Wine & Spirits and grocery giant Publix oppose the law.  Meantime, critics say if it’s passed, it would shrink the number of alcohol licenses that are issued and reduce state revenues by about a quarter of a million dollars.

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