Florida Retailers Fight Alcohol Separation Law

beer wineSenate Regulated Industries Committee to hear SB 804 on April 10.

A coalition of retailers is supporting a measure to repeal Florida’s outdated and inconvenient separation law, which restricts consumer access to alcoholic beverages by requiring liquor to be sold in a location separate from groceries and other goods. 

Florida has yet to modernize the law, which originated in 1935 after prohibition.

Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) will present SB 804 to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Thursday, April 10.

The coalition, Floridians for Fair Business Practices, supports SB 804 in an effort to provide customer convenience, reduce business costs in eliminating unnecessary requirements, and promote fair business practices and competition, while continuing its strict enforcement of alcohol control mechanisms required for a retail establishment selling alcoholic beverages.

Today, 34 states allow the sale of liquor without a separation requirement, in line with other adult beverage products.

Opponents say a repeal of the separation law would allow minors greater access to alcohol.

“Customers want the convenience of purchasing adult beverages as part of their overall shopping experience, and we have the strong measures in place to enforce underage drinking laws,” said Coalition Spokesperson, Christina Johnson. “It’s time to adopt common sense legislation that brings Florida law into the 21st century and offers consumers the level of convenience and customer service they have grown to expect.”

Research further disputes claims that minors will have additional access to alcohol if the law is repealed. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the majority of underage drinkers (ages 12-20), 62% report getting their alcohol from adults such as parents, guardians, other family members or unrelated adults.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that 40% of students who reported past-month consumption said that they usually obtained the alcohol they drank by someone giving it to them.

What’s more, in one state without a separation requirement, liquor stores recorded more violations of selling alcohol to minors than drug stores, convenience stores and grocery stores combined. According to data collected from January 2005 through December 2013, liquor stores had 56% of total violations in selling alcohol to minors compared to 44% committed by the other retail outlets.

Retailers are not the only ones who believe Florida’s separation law is out-of-date. John Harris, former director of Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and Wes Singletary, former chief of licensing and auditing at ABT under the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, support FFBP’s efforts to repeal the state’s obsolete separation law that forces retailers and grocers to sell alcohol in a separate location from food, beer and wine.

“There is a direct correlation between the amount of time, energy and resources that are put into training, technology and security and the level of licensee compliance,” said Singletary. “Our coalition members are completely devoted to this segment of their operations.”

A Voter Consumer Research poll of 601 likely voters conducted between Jan. 29 and Feb. 2, 2014, shows that eight out of 10 respondents believe it is a matter of convenience for consumers to have the ability to purchase spirits in the same store where they buy beer, wine and other grocery items. And, three out of four also believe that a repeal of the separation requirement would increase competition and choice for consumers, creating convenience and better prices.

Here’s what people are saying about repealing Florida’s archaic separation law:

“During my 28 year career with Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, our office conducted sting operations on all types of licensed liquor establishments. I have seen firsthand that grocers and retailers have numerous safeguards in place to keep minors from accessing alcohol in their stores.”
~John Harris, former ABT Director and FFBP Coalition member

“Repealing this obsolete law is a common sense approach to reducing unnecessary regulations on job creators and providing an added level of convenience for Floridians. That is why we support this legislation.”
~Wes Singletary, Ph.D., former ABT Licensing/Auditing Chief, FFBP coalition member

“The current law [565.04, F.S.] requires additional regulation and costs.”
~ Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton)

“The regulation is outdated, and there is no reason to have a dividing wall. There are plenty of safeguards to keep minors from getting alcohol without placing a wall of concrete in front of responsible adults who can buy it legally.”
~ Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Inverness)

“We as a legislature try to create a deregulation environment for businesses and make it easy on consumers. It does not make a lot of sense to require customers who want liquor and beer, wine or groceries to shop at two separate stores.”
~Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota)

“I welcome the opportunity to debate the opponent’s protectionist concerns.  What the spirits retailers are really saying is telling lawmakers competition is not a good thing.”
~ Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation)

“With many options already available, this Prohibition Era relic no longer serves a legitimate public purpose.”
~ Sen. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee)

“Many mom-and-pop liquor stores, as well as the big booze chains like ABC Liquors, oppose doing away with the separate-entrance requirement, which is understandable since these businesses are only trying to protect their own interests. The reasons, though, for their opposition are a bit far-fetched, based on the notion that if Publix, for example, is permitted to sell liquor next to the beer and wine, this will lead to an epidemic of underage drinking. Florida is one of only 16 states that impose a Berlin Wall between the beer and the bourbon. There is no indication the other 34 states are experiencing an epidemic of drunken 16-year-olds passed out in the arugula bin. If cashiers in drug and grocery stores are obligated to check the IDs of customers buying beer and wine, they will still conduct their age due diligence toward youngish patrons presenting a fifth of Jack Daniels for purchase.”
~Daniel Ruth, Tampa Bay Times Columnist




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