Liquor wall staying up in Florida after Gov. Scott’s veto

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida’s liquor wall, which was been around since Prohibition ended, will remain standing after a bill to tear it down was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The so-called “Whiskey and Wheaties Bill” would have allowed grocery stores, big box retailers and other stores to sell liquor in the same space as other products. Wednesday’s veto means liquor still must be sold in a side store that is separated by a wall.

The veto is Scott’s first this year. It came amid heavy opposition from independent liquor store owners who said it would drive them out of business. The governor’s office received 7,516 phone calls, emails and letters opposing the bill compared to 1,174 in support.

Scott said in his veto letter that he is committed to removing regulations but that eliminating this one would affect too many small businesses. Over one-third of independent liquor stores in Florida are in plazas that have big box retailers or supermarkets.

Versions of the bill had existed in the Legislature since 2014 but Target and Wal-Mart lobbied heavily during this year’s session to get it passed. Michael Corcoran, the brother of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, lobbies for Wal-Mart.

The bill was approved 21-17 by the Senate but passed by just one vote in the House. After roll call in the House, three members voted no and another switched their vote from yes to no.

Publix, which has some stand-alone liquor stores attached to some of its supermarkets, was against the bill because of how easily minors could have access to alcohol. The bill stated that individuals selling liquor must be 18 or older.

George Knightly, who owns five liquor stores in Orlando, said he was shocked but very happy about Scott’s veto.

“The veto is better for business but even better for the community,” he said. “As a parent and grandparent I’m tired of people saying a drink is a drink. When a kid is stealing a bottle of liquor he is not making a drink the same way he would get it in a bar. It’s not apples to apples.”

The Distilled Spirits Council says Florida is one of 23 states that does not allow the sale of liquor alongside wine and beer in grocery stores and big-box retailers.

Floridians for Fair Business Practices released a statement saying they look forward to working with the Legislature next year to try and get another version of the bill passed.

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