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Lawmakers Wrangle Over Booze As Last Call Looms

Florida lawmakers are looking to change how the state handles alcohol, but last call is coming up quickly.
Peter Clark via Flickr

It’s almost last call for four alcohol bills in the state legislature.  Thursday, bills in the House and the Senate came before their final committees, but with very different outcomes.

For some proposals, the final committee stop is more like a victory lap.  That was certainly the case for the Senate’s branded product legislation.  This provision, like one that’s already passed committees in the House is aimed at loosening purchase restrictions at the state’s craft distilleries.  Senate sponsor Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) explains it does this by replacing language about bottle limits with branded product limits. 

“This simply allows Florida’s craft distilleries to sell two bottles per brand, per year or four bottles total, whichever is greater to customers who visit their distillery,” Hays says.

With that change in place, a distillery would be able to sell two bottles of whiskey as well as two bottles of gin or some other spirit, instead of being limited to two bottles total.  The other senate proposal has its sights set on banning powdered alcohol.   Sen. Gwen Margolis (D-Miami) is sponsoring the measure.

“I just think that it’s, I think it’s important not to be a demonstration state and to indeed ban it until you have some idea of what in the world is going on out there,” Margolis says.

And she says the inclination isn’t restricted to Florida.

“It has been banned in Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Vermont,” Margolis says.  “And there are several other states standing in line to make sure that it doesn’t come to their state.”

Margolis got her bill through the committee, but many of her fellow senators expressed reservations.  They questioned the measure’s penalties—too harsh—and the idea of prohibiting a substance the state already regulates, albeit in liquid form.  Although he voted in favor of the proposal, Rep. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) says prohibition is a dead end.

“There’s nothing that the legislature can do to stop technology.  Whether its food technology, or energy technology, or drone technology—we cannot stop technology,” Richter says.  “It’s our responsibility to responsibly regulate it. 

But in the House, two measures ran into a brick wall.  Regulatory Affairs Committee chair Rep. Jose Diaz (R-Miami) talked tough about his role in the process.

“Ladies and gentlemen, some first-time legislators come to this process dreaming to be Speaker, I came into this process dreaming of being chairman of Reg. Affairs for four years,” Diaz says.

“I hope to be around for a while, so I need you to stop playing games with bills,” he continues, “as for today, we will be efficient, and we will be respectful of each other’s time, so let’s get ready to rumble.”

Now there are a whole host of bills Diaz could be referring to, but minutes later both alcohol measures were tabled.  The first, was so-called ‘straight’ growler bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor), it was originally written only to allow 64 ounce refillable bottles of beer, and it’s moved through committee with minimal resistance.  Meanwhile Rep. Greg Steube’s (R-Sarasota) omnibus alcohol bill has shadowed its path but with significant pushback.  Tuesday, a handful of provisions from Steube’s bill were amended into Sprowls’ and now neither gets a hearing.  There’s one more meeting of Diaz’s committee, but postponing bills this late is often a death sentence.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.