Amid the anti-regulation fervor gripping the Florida Legislature this spring, the head of the state’s largest hospitality trade group on Wednesday urged lawmakers to speed up licensing, target inspections at select hotels and restaurants, and make liquor licenses easier to obtain.

Testifying before the Florida House’s Rulemaking & Regulation Subcommittee, Carol Dover, the president of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, offered lawmakers a brief wish list that she said would make life easier for her organization’s 10,000 members, who include the likes of Walt Disney World, Darden Restaurants and many more.  Among them:

– Speed up the licensing process by allowing online applications. “In this day and age, to not be able to go online and fill out your application and then submit it and then make your payment online is just ludicrous,” Dover said.

– Focus inspections on “habitual offenders.” By rule, the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation is supposed to inspect restaurants and hotels three times per year, a huge target Dover said the agency is unable to meet.  She said the agency should target inspections on facilities in which it has discovered violations in the past. “There are other facilities, some of the larger chains, that have their own internal inspections. They’re literally inspected daily,” Dover said. “So there can be a way to cut back on [inspections of ] some of those that are not the habitual offenders.”

– Eliminate unnecessary rules required for facilities to have alcohol licenses. A specific example Dover cited: A rule that distributors separately register each alcohol brand they sell, at a cost of $30 per pop. “Many of these [rules] have literally been around since Prohibition. There are a lot of ancient rules on the books,” she said.

– Allowing smaller eateries to qualify for specialized restaurant liquor licenses that are currently available only to restaurants that seat 150 or more people,  have at least 2,500 square feet of space and derive at least 51 percent of their sales from food (rather than alcoholic drinks).  Dover noted that, since the state’s constitutional ban on smoking in restaurants, it has become much easier to distinguish between small restaurants and bars  (where smoking is still permitted). “We can take a snapshot and you know you’re either a bar or a restaurant.”

Jason Garcia, Orlando Sentinel, January 26, 2011