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Florida ‘Alcohol To Go’ Proposal Set Up For The House

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John McCall
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Leah Kappen and Zach Bishop (left) chat with bartender Samantha Pelaez (right) at Kapow Noodle Bar in Boca Raton after the restaurant re-opened on Monday, May 11, 2020, in accordance with Palm Beach County's Phase 1 re-opening.

A measure known as “alcohol to go,” which would allow restaurants to include alcoholic drinks or bottles as part of take-home orders, is ready to go before the full House.

The proposal (HB 329), filed by Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City, was backed Tuesday by the House Commerce Committee. It would allow restaurants and certain bars to sell or deliver alcoholic beverages in sealed containers to go when accompanied by food.

“This bill is a lifeline for businesses during this time,” Tomkow said. “It is very important. And what better way to see how a piece of legislation works out than to have a year for us to see, which is exactly what we were able to do during the pandemic.”

The practice was allowed in an executive order issued last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis to help restaurants that were forced to scale back operations in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would make that practice permanent. It would require motorists to place the drinks in locked compartments, vehicle trunks or in areas behind the last upright seats in vehicles.

Teresa Miller, representing Families Struggling with Addiction, said she couldn’t understand how allowing alcohol to be delivered to homes became essential during the pandemic.

“I'm all for capitalism and open markets, and I've been supporting the restaurants,” Miller said. “But I just don't see how you can support allowing alcohol to be delivered to homes and to allow restaurants to give people alcohol to drive home with.”

Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat who has been heavily involved in traffic-safety issues, said the proposal could keep people from drinking at restaurants and then driving home.

“I tend to think that there's something in this legislation that will actually prevent people from driving to restaurants and actually ordering the spirits and the wine from these restaurants,” Slosberg said. “I tend to think this might actually prevent some people from drinking and driving if they have the option to order it from a restaurant.”

Tomkow made an addition to the bill intended to keep restaurants with liquor licenses from becoming full package stores. A similar Senate bill (SB 148) is scheduled to go to the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday. After that, it could go to the full Senate.