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Restaurant to go alcohol sales could become permanent in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida restaurants would be able to sell alcohol for take out and delivery under a bill approved by a Senate committee Tuesday that would would make permanent a suspension of rules the governor allowed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order last year allowing alcohol to go to help restaurants that were losing business as people stayed home and capacity restrictions were enforced. While DeSantis has since lifted capacity limits, he has expressed support for allowing the businesses to continue take out and delivery of cocktails, wine and beer.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee unanimously approved Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley's bill.

“COVID-19 has created a tremendous stress on the restaurant industry,” Bradley said. “The current executive order has been a lifeline. It has helped restaurants accomplish a goal of being successful while also providing a convenience for consumers.”

The bill would limit alcohol to go to restaurants whose sales are at least 51% food. Containers would have to be sealed and placed in a locked compartment or the backseat of a vehicle out of a driver’s reach.

The legislation came up in its first House committee Thursday.

“Due to government-mandated closures, they have had to adapt to serve the needs of their customers. The governor’s executive order has helped restaurants accomplish this goal, while also providing a convenience to customers,” said Rep. Josie Tomkow, who is sponsoring the House version of the bill that would make the change permanent.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association told lawmakers extra sales have been a lifeline for many eateries.

“Some restaurants have closed and will never come back and for those that are hanging on and hanging in there, this is one of the things that’s helping them do that,” said Samantha Padgett, general counsel for the association.

Rep. Scott Plakon expressed some hesitancy, questioning whether liquor should be included.

“I’ve always kind of put those in separate piles, the hard liquor versus beer and wine so I’m voting yes today, but that could change,” said Plakon.

Previous efforts to permit liquor to go have fallen short, but this year making the case against the bill will be more difficult, since it’s been allowed for almost a year now.

“We’ve proven that it can be done, that it can be done safely,” said Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Dover believes the continuation of liquor to go will help restaurants as they face the long recovery ahead.

“It’s helped people stay alive. It has helped people have a job. Don’t take it away. No sense in going backward,” said Dover.

The bill received unanimous approval in its first House and Senate committees.

It has two more stops in the Senate and one more in the House before it’s ready for a floor vote.

Pending legislative approval, alcohol to go will continue in Florida, so long as the governor’s state of emergency for COVID-19 remains in effect.