By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Local craft brewers and liquor store owners are toasting the defeat of a bill that would have allowed select grocery stores to sell beer, wine and spirits.
But supporters of the measure warn that the bill’s opposition shouldn’t pour the champagne in celebration just yet. They expect an initiative allowing grocery stores to sell full-strength beer, wine and liquor to make it onto the November ballot.
House Bill 1279 would have permitted grocery stores with a pharmacy license that earn at least 51 percent of their annual revenues from food sales to purchase neighboring liquor stores. The grocery stores could have then sold beer, wine and liquor inside those stores. Bill sponsor Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, D-Pueblo, decided to pull the measure yesterday because she didn’t have enough votes to pass it through the House Committee on Finance.
McFadyen said her bill would be a better approach than a ballot initiative because she’d “much rather have liquor laws done in an approach involving public testimony and the ability to be flexible.”
“I’m disappointed we couldn’t come to a compromise that could work,” she said.
Meanwhile, Great Divide Brewing Company Founder Brian Dunn cheered the bill’s defeat as a victory for the state.
“I think that consumers, their dollars will be kept in Colorado more if they’re spending those dollars at independently owned stores compared to chains,” he said. “For Colorado, I think it’s good and I’m thrilled.”
Argonaut Wine and Liquor Store Owner Ron Vaughn believes the bill’s defeat is a sign that lawmakers and the voters they represent still don’t support allowing grocery stores to sell full-strength beer and alcohol. Vaughn argued that HB 1279 would have cost Colorado jobs as the grocery stores could have used their existing staff to sell the additional alcohol.
Despite an amendment requiring grocery store employees under the age of 21 to be supervised by an adult when selling alcohol, Vaughn worried that minors still could have more easily purchased alcohol at a grocery store because the checkout clerks might not be as well trained to spot a fake ID. It would also be possible for minors to sneak out alcohol, for example, by filling a root beer case with beer and then using the self-checkout line, according to Vaughn.
“I’m glad the measure was defeated,” he said.
Blake Harrison, a candidate for House District 7, is sponsoring two ballot initiatives that would in part allow grocery stores to sell full-strength liquor, wine and beer. Following yesterday’s defeat of HB 1279, he was waiting to hear from the Colorado Retail Council, the group representing chain grocery stores and convenience stores, on whether they would put their manpower and checkbooks behind his initiatives. He is ready to start collecting signatures to get the measures onto the ballot as soon as next week.
“I’m ready to go if they (the Colorado Retail Council) are,” he said.
Sarah Kurz of Fair Markets Colorado, which represents the Colorado Retail Council, said it was her understanding that the Colorado Retail Council yesterday was still deciding whether to throw its support behind the ballot initiatives. And though HB 1279 was killed before it reached the House floor, Kurz remained optimistic about the future chances of getting full-strength alcohol into grocery stores.
Kurz pointed out that the bill made it through one committee, which is further than any previous similar bills survived. She expects the issue to be brought up until it passes.
Vaughn also expects lawmakers to keep on bringing forward legislation aimed at getting full-strength alcohol in grocery stores.
“It’s not going to go away because they (grocery stores) have deep pockets,” he said. “But so far the people of Colorado have recognized the uniqueness of the market and they want to keep it that way.”
In other coverage
The Durango Herald: The legislative liquor wars are over for another year, or at least until Election Day. The sponsor of the last remaining bill to allow grocery stores to sell liquor killed her own bill Wednesday. House Bill 1279 would have let grocery stores buy existing licenses from liquor-store owners. “Being the practical individual I am, the votes are not here to pass this bill,” Rep. Buffie McFadyen told members of the House Finance Committee, who complied with her request to kill it.
The Denver Business Journal: A Colorado legislative proposal to let some grocery stores buy the licenses of liquor stores died in a House committee Wednesday after its sponsor said she lacked the votes to pass it and asked that it be killed instead. The indefinite postponement of House Bill 1279, sponsored by Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, signals the end of three years of legislative battles over whether grocery and convenience stores should be able to sell full-strength beer, wine or alcohol.
Associated Press: The Colorado House Finance Committee has killed a measure that would have allowed grocery stores to sell liquor and other spirits.