Out-of-state wine issue may change

Published: Sunday, January 30, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 10:54 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Paula Dockery filled out the paperwork and paid for the wine at a little vineyard in California's Napa Valley a few years ago. When she was asked where the wine was being sent, however, the deal ended.
Dockery, a Republican state senator, lives in Lakeland. And like nearly two dozen other states, Florida bans the importation of wine from other states.
''I think there's something terribly wrong with that,'' she said.
So Dockery has filed a bill that will kill the 1997 law that bans Floridians from receiving wine shipped from out of state.
The law was purported to be a move to keep minors from ordering wine and evading age limits. But the hardest lobbying job has come from wholesalers who hope to maintain their middleman status by ordering out-of-state wine and then marking it up for resale.
Dockery has tried before to end the ban. She got nowhere.
''There was a pretty powerful lobby against me,'' she said.
But Senate President Tom Lee told her to go for it. Lee, a Republican from Brandon, is a libertarian when it comes to libations. He single-handedly pushed through a bill a few years ago that erased arcane limits on the sizes of beer that could be sold in the state.
The wine issue is ripe.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of similar bans in New York and Michigan.
A Sarasota man, Jerry Bainbridge, filed suit against the state law in 1999 with his friends. The group of oenophiles, dubbed the ''Sarasota Six,'' lost their first hearing in federal court, but an appeals court has asked for more information.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision, when it comes later this year, will likely render Bainbridge's case moot. It could also make Florida's law illegal, but Dockery isn't taking any chances.
Dockery said her bill, and a similar measure filed by Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, would require shippers to obtain a driver's license proving the purchaser is 21 or older.
And the state would license out-of-state shippers, collecting a $100 fee to make sure that taxes are collected on all shipments.
Nelson set for battle Facing a likely challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris next year, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said he is ready to aggressively defend his Senate seat.
As Democratic leaders convened near Tallahassee last week, Nelson acknowledged that some members of his party wanted him to run for governor in 2006 when term limits will prevent Jeb Bush from seeking re-election.
After all, Nelson is now the state's most visible Democrat and the only member of his party to hold a statewide office.
Nelson also has the most experience in statewide races, having run for governor unsuccessfully in 1990 and winning election as state insurance commissioner in 1994 and 1998.
He was elected to the Senate in 2000.
But Nelson said he is firmly committed to seeking another six-year term in the Senate.
''I love the Senate. I love the senators. And you know when you've hit your stride,'' he said.
As of Dec. 31, Nelson has raised $2.1 million for his re-election bid.
He said he feels confident that he will have enough money to run a competitive campaign next year.
"We're going at it like there is no tomorrow,'' he said.
Last week, Nelson was acting as a senior adviser for a group of Democrats who are thinking about running for governor or state Cabinet seats next year.
Nelson declined to take a position on whether the state should revive a runoff system.
For the last two election cycles, the state has used a winner-take-all primary, rather than the traditional system of requiring a runoff election if one candidate doesn't receive a majority vote in the primary.
Nelson said the runoff system has historically been good for the Democrats, producing candidates like Bob Graham in the 1978 governor's race, Reubin Askew in the 1970 governor's race and Lawton Chiles in the 1970 U.S. Senate campaign.
But he also noted the state has dramatically changed, particularly with the growth of the Republican Party, which now controls the majority of top political offices in the state.
"The state is a lot different now,'' he said. "It's much more expensive (to campaign). Its population is much more diverse. It is genuinely a two-party state."
Compiled from reports by Joe Follick and Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sun Tallahassee Bureau.

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