House Panel Approves Three Changes To Alcohol Regulations

Mar 28, 2017

Florida beverage agents taking inventory of confiscated liquor in 1957. The state has long kept a tight grip on alcohol, but regulations are beginning to loosen.
Credit Florida Memory

The House Careers and Competition Committee took up and passed a handful of alcohol measures Tuesday.

After spending three years wrestling over whether to legalize the 64 ounce growler, state lawmakers appear much more comfortable amending Florida’s alcohol regulations.  The state operates under a model established at the end of prohibition splitting production, distribution and retail into distinct spheres of business.  That separation is meant to halt the so-called “tied-house evil” where one entity exerts control in the marketplace by tying a retailer to a producer. 

But those distinctions are growing fuzzier with each additional piece of legislation, and maintaining the separation means diving into the minutiae.

“If there’s a possibility to bring it down to two cases of two brands instead of three,” Rep. Al Jacquet (D-Lantana) says, “I would much rather see that when this bill comes up in the next stop.”

His concerns have to do with a measure allowing distributors to give up to three cases of branded glassware to bars and restaurants.  Under current law, glasses are treated as inducements giving producers or distributors too much influence over retailers.  

Still, Jacquet voted for the bill and it passed easily. 

Another bill allows theme parks and brewers to engage in cooperative advertising agreements.  Florida Brewers guild lobbyist Josh Aubuchon worries those agreements will freeze out craft brewers.

“You know the law has been in place for a long time just to prevent those kind of tied-house evils,” Aubuchon says, “and I know it always sounds funny to say tied-house evil like it’s malicious and what not, but it really is to prevent someone from coming in and pricing everyone else out of the market.”

“You look at soft-drinks,” he goes on, “a lot of times when you go to one, they only have Coke or Pepsi—they don’t have both.”

But Mac Stipanovich, speaking on behalf of Universal Studios, contends there’s room for partnerships with large producers and small ones.

“You know there are events, whether they’re concerts or whatever, of all different sizes,” he says, “You know everything’s not a Harry Potter ride.”

“There are all sorts of events, there are all sorts of venues and all sorts of opportunities for everyone to participate at a level that they can afford,” Stipanovich says, “and we would be glad to take all of their money.”

That proposal passed too. 

The panel also took up Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson’s (R-St. Johns) craft distilling changes.  Florida law defines craft distillers as those producing 75,000 or fewer gallons a year, and it limits sales at the distillery to two bottles per branded product—whiskey, gin and so on.  Stevenson wants to raise the limit to six bottles.

“Primarily these sales are to tourists to spread the word on Florida’s quality craft spirits to their friends and retailers at home,” Stevenson argues.  “Increasing this bottle limit helps these small distilleries meet customer demand, encourages the industry to grow and benefits the small Florida family farms that provide our citrus, corn and sugar cane.”

Stevenson’s measure, like the other two, gained approval. 

Lawmakers remain wary of loosening their grip on the state’s alcohol production system.  But for now, it seems, the GOP-led Legislature’s inclination toward lighter regulation carries more weight.