Florida residents may soon have more options when it comes to purchasing liquor. On April 26 the House of Representatives approved a bill that would end most of Florida’s restrictions on selling alcohol with other merchandise by 2021. Proponents argue lifting this “liquor wall” will benefit consumers and free markets, while critics say it will hurt local businesses and lead to increased problems with underage drinking and DUI.
Legislature Votes to End Restrictions by 2021
Currently, Florida law prohibits vendors that sell alcoholic beverages from offering any unrelated merchandise for sale in the same space. Alcohol must either be sold in standalone liquor stores or in a separate retail space, i.e. a side store separated by a wall. But you cannot, for instance, legally sell hard liquor on the same shelves as regular groceries.
Last December bills were introduced in both houses of the Florida legislature to gradually end this requirement. The Florida Senate passed its bill, SB 106, on March 23 by a vote of 21-17. The margin was even just a single vote in the House, which agreed to SB 106 on a 58-57 vote.
Dubbed the “Whiskey and Wheaties” bill by some, the legislation would open the door for selling hard liquor alongside beer and wine in many grocery and “big box” stores. SB 106 would actually phase in the easing of restrictions starting on July 1, 2018, with a complete repeal taking effect on June 30, 2021.
Retailers Spar Over Potential Effects of Ending the Wall
Perhaps not surprisingly, the legislation has drawn battle lines between smaller, family-owned liquor stores and larger retailers. Florida Businesses Unite, which promotes the slogan “Keep the Wall,” argued SB 106 is “merely an attempt by out-of-state companies to change the rules midgame in an effort to seek an unfair advantage.” The group further claimed that large anchor stores in shopping centers will use their newfound ability to sell liquor as a pretext for driving smaller competitors out of the market.
On the opposite side, Floridians for Fair Business Practices said SB 106 will make it more “convenient” to buy liquor and that 30 states already “allow distilled liquor to be sold alongside other adult beverages.” The group also pointed to research suggesting that expanding the retail availability of liquor will not curb underage drinking.
Are You Facing DUI or Underage Drinking Charges in the Orlando Area?
Regardless of whether SB 106 becomes law, the rules governing DUI and underage drinking will not change. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or consume alcohol in the State of Florida. And any adult with a blood-alcohol concentration of at least 0.08 percent (0.02 percent if you are under 21) is considered criminal drunk driving. You may also face stiffer criminal penalties if a police officer finds an open container of liquor in your vehicle at the time of a DUI arrest, even if you are over 21 and purchased the alcohol legally.
If you are facing a DUI charge and need help from an experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney, contact the offices of Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, today at 407-377-0150.