Florida Senate passes bill allowing to-go alcoholic drink orders

One feature of the coronavirus pandemic is here to stay.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. [ PHIL SEARS | AP ]
Published Apr. 7, 2021|Updated Apr. 7, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — The bill passed the Florida Senate at about 4:50 p.m. — just in time for happy hour.

Lawmakers on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 148, which would allow Floridians to buy alcoholic drinks in to-go and delivery orders from restaurants with some restrictions. For example, the bill would only allow restaurants with at least 2,500 square feet of dining area and a capacity of at least 150 to offer to-go alcohol.

Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the bill’s sponsor, said that she modeled her legislation after a state emergency order from last March.

That order, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 20, 2020, was intended to give a lifeline to local restaurants which had their businesses devastated by the pandemic.

“I am committed to supporting retailers, restaurants and their employees as they pursue creative business practices that safely serve consumers during this temporary period of social distancing,” DeSantis’ executive order read.

The sale of alcohol is one of the most highly regulated areas of commerce in Florida. For years, restaurant industry advocates hoped for a change to Florida’s laws which would allow customers to consume alcoholic drinks off the premises of a restaurant.

But it wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic that such a bill became politically workable in Tallahassee, said Samantha Padgett, the general counsel of Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which supported SB 148.

But the bill that passed the Senate did not please everyone. Sen. Audrey Gibson was one of two “no” votes Wednesday. The Jacksonville Democrat said she voted against the bill because it would exclude smaller businesses.

Indeed, only restaurants with special restaurant licenses — which have large, high capacity dining areas, can sell alcoholic drinks to-go under the bill.

Other restrictions included in the bill: drinks sold for off-premises consumption can be no more than 32 ounces; they can’t be a factory-sealed bottle of hard liquor and to-go and delivery orders of alcohol have to come with an order of food.

A similar measure, HB 329, could be taken up in the Florida House any day. If it passes that chamber, and DeSantis signs the bill into law, the policy will go into effect July 1, 2021.

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