Colorado House defeats beer bill

Measure would have allowed sales in grocery and convenience stores

DENVER – The House defeated an attempt Monday to let the state’s grocery stores and convenience stores sell full-strength beer.

It was the furthest any bill to allow food stores to sell beer has made it in the Legislature in four years of trying, but House Bill 1284 still failed by a wide margin.

Representatives rose or sat to indicate their support for the bill. It appeared that only 19 people rose to support it – far fewer than the 33 it needed for passage. Locally, Republicans J. Paul Brown of Ignacio and Don Coram of Montrose opposed it.

The sponsor, Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, said his bill was a matter of consumer choice.

“If you had to buy your tires only from a tire store, you’d say this is crazy,” Liston said.

Currently, food stores can sell only low-alcohol beer. Store owners complained in 2008 when the Legislature allowed liquor stores to stay open on Sundays. The grocers said that before the Sunday sales law, they did much of their beer business on Sundays because customers had no other choice if they wanted beer.

Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Garfield County, said craft brewers believe they will suffer if grocery stores get to sell beer because it could drive independent liquor stores out of business and take away access to the market for small breweries.

“I believe them when they tell me it’s going to hurt them. They know what they’re doing,” Wilson said.

After a three-hour debate, Liston sensed that his bill was about to fail, and he attempted to amend it to send it to the voters in 2012. But the House soundly defeated the ballot plan.

Liston paid a backhanded compliment to lobby groups for liquor stores and craft brewers.

“I have the utmost respect for your power here under the dome,” Liston said. “You convinced just about everyone that mom-and-pop liquor stores are the kingpins of the Colorado economy.”

Another similar bill is still alive in the Senate. Senate Bill 194 would let convenience stores – but not grocery stores – sell beer. It could be heard on the Senate floor this week.