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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2017
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House panel kills ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill

In a bipartisan vote, a House panel has killed what came to be known as the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill, dealing a blow to big-box stores Walmart and Target.

The House Regulatory Affairs committee on Tuesday voted down the alcoholic beverages bill (HB 107) on a 10-6 vote.

But committee chair Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican, said not to assume the measure is out for the count.

The bill originally contained a repeal of an 80-year-old state law requiring retailers to sell hard liquor in a separate store away from groceries and other goods.

That language was tweaked to keep the separation requirement and instead allow only a door between adjoined liquor and main stores. “There are still a lot of people who would like to see this pass and in its original form,” he told the Tribune/Naples Daily News Capital Bureau. “They can always amend their language onto other bills, even on the floor. So stay tuned.”

At the same time, it was the bill’s frequent morphing to appease various interests that ultimately doomed it, he added.

The measure had cleared two previous House panels; had it been approved Tuesday, it would have been cleared for consideration on the House floor.

“I think this committee dealt it a death blow because it had changed so many times that they did not feel comfortable with the final product,” Diaz said.

Bill sponsor Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, couldn’t be immediately reached later Tuesday.

The bill was pushed by Walmart, Target, Walgreens and others, who wanted an elimination of the separation requirement.

“In 30 states, where spirits are sold alongside beer and wine, there is no increase in minor access, no increase in binge drinking, and no reports of independent liquor stores going out of business,” said Christina Johnson, spokeswoman for Floridians for Fair Business Practices, the companies’ PR coalition. “We will continue to educate elected officials that this is a pro-business issue.”

They had hired the cream of the state’s lobbying corps, including the Ballard Partners and Corcoran & Johnston firms.

Robert Stuart, a lobbyist for Target, which sells booze in 500 stores in 13 states, told lawmakers that having to build separate liquor stores “is cost prohibitive to us.”

Publix, ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, and independently owned liquor stores fought against the bill, saying it would cost them hard-earned business.

“There was no public policy in this bill, merely corporate greed,” said Rory Eggers, president of the Florida Independent Spirits Association. “What they were proposing fits their business model.”

The National Federation of Independent Business also cheered the bill’s demise.

“Too often we see the big guy trampling the little guy, but this represents a win for the independent retailers of Main Street,” said NFIB-Florida’s legislative director Tim Nungesser.

A companion bill (SB 468) is still working its way through the Senate, sponsored by Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican.

That bill is scheduled to be heard in the Commerce and Tourism committee, the second of three stops before it can be considered by the full chamber.


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