After the year Floridians have had, one of the state’s newest Senators thinks they might need a libation or two.
Sen. Jennifer Bradley of North Central Florida’s Senate District 5, who previously told Florida Politics’ Jacksonville Bold that she was looking to make takeout mixed drinks a permanent option, filed legislation to do just that Friday.
Bradley’s SB 148 would revise current beverage law to allow restaurants to deliver mixed drinks with meals, continuing a practice begun during the pandemic at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The alcohol delivery would have to be accompanied by food.
If the bill becomes law, it takes effect in July.
Bradley described herself as “laser-focused on helping our small businesses” when discussing the bill earlier in the fall.
“To that end, and in an effort to support our restaurants [that] have been running on fumes, I plan to file a bill that allows restaurants to permanently serve mixed drinks as a takeout option. It’s been a long year; Floridians should be able to get a Cosmo to-go,” Bradley said.
Bradley is replacing her husband in the office, and he’s replacing her in the spouses’ lounge. Those with long-term memories will remember the former Sen. Bradley’s work on personal liberty issues, particularly his push last year to preempt local bans on front-yard vegetable gardens.
The Bradley bill is the second piece of legislation from a Senate Republican that would enshrine into law an executive order allowing restaurants to sell mixed drinks, beer and wine to-go.
Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill last week, and his is somewhat more expansive in that it allows restaurants to sell wine-based drinks and malt-beverages in addition to mixed drinks.
The legislation covers bars or establishments that get more than half of their revenue from food sales. Brandes described his measure as one that has already been tested and approved in the court of public opinion.
“It was wildly successful and, in many ways, helped businesses get over the hump of the pandemic. We think it is a process that should continue, so we are looking to establish it in state law,” Brandes said on Friday. “We saw this during the pandemic. There weren’t any major problems. … I don’t think this is going to be a major issue for us to streamline the process and allow Floridians to have more freedom.”
Both proposals for the 2021 Legislative Session that begins March 2 were posted online Friday. House companion measures have not yet been posted.
Brandes said Friday the Department of Business and Professional Regulation will have to establish rules for a sealed container, if his proposal passes and is signed into law by DeSantis.
“We’re just not allowing somebody to take their drink home in a roadie and a red Solo Cup,” Brandes said.
The St. Petersburg Republican also wants to change meal-requirement language in existing law, which allows people to take home a partially consumed bottle of wine when they leave a restaurant.
Current law requires the meal to be a full course, featuring a salad or vegetable, entrée, a beverage, and bread. Brandes wants the law simply to require a patron to have ordered a meal.
“Literally, no restaurant in the state of Florida, to my knowledge, follows this because nobody really knows what the law says, as it relates to taking a bottle of wine home that’s already been open,” Brandes said.
Brandes isn’t seeking to alter existing law that requires restaurants to reseal partially consumed bottles before patrons leave.
The proposal has the backing of a coalition of influential business lobbying interests in Tallahassee, which on Monday included the alcohol-law revamp as part of a wide-ranging list of pandemic-related legislative proposals.
In a 74-page report, the RESET task force, co-chaired by executives from Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the National Federation of Independent Business Florida, called existing rules restricting carryout alcohol “antiquated and no longer necessary.”
DeSantis in September backed the idea of allowing carryout alcoholic beverages to become permanent.
While meeting in Fort Myers with restaurant operators, DeSantis said the practice appears to “been successful.”
“I think that you guys need all the help you can get, and I think it would make a lot of sense,” DeSantis said at the time. “So, I’m for it being permanent. And I think that you’ll probably get a pretty good reception in the Legislature, just based on the experience and just based off everyone having to go through what you guys have gone through.”
(The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.)
A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com.