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Judge overturns alcohol sign law

A circuit judge has thrown out a Hillsborough County ordinance that required restaurants serving alcohol to post warnings about the dangers of excessive drinking, the Florida Restaurant Association said Monday. Hillsborough passed an ordinance last year requiring the signs, which warn patrons that alcohol can cause addiction, intoxication and birth defects. The ordinance applied to all establishments that sell alcohol.

Judge John M. Gilbert in Tampa struck down the portion of the ordinance that applied to the 1,400 businesses in Hillsborough that serve food as well as alcohol, said Manny Mighdoll, director of the Florida Restaurant Association.

Liquor stores and bars that serve alcohol, but not food, still must post the signs, Mighdoll said.

Mighdoll said the judge has ruled the County Commission exceeded its authority because a 1989 state law gave regulatory authority over restaurants to the state. Previously, county health departments and the state shared the job.

The association sued last year to overturn the portion of the ordinance that applied to restaurants.

Judge Gilbert's ruling was not available late Monday, and attorneys for the county and the restaurant association could not be reached for comment.

The ordinance was passed in February 1990 when an alcohol education task force recommended the signs. Supporters said the signs would catch the attention of high-risk groups such as pregnant women.

Some alcoholic beverage representatives opposed the signs, saying they would be ineffective compared with abuse education programs.

The signs said, in part, "Reduce your risks. Do not drink during pregnancy. Do not drink before driving or operating machinery. Do not mix alcohol with other drugs, both prescription and non-prescription. It can be fatal."