The House kills a measure that would widen alcohol sales to let supermarkets expand offerings.
Source: The Denver Post
By Jessica Fender
Posted: 05/06/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT
Colorado shoppers are much less likely to find beer, wine and liquor on supermarket shelves after a House committee on Wednesday killed a bill to expand alcohol sales and the prospects dimmed for two similarly aimed ballot initiatives.
It was the third time in as many years that a coalition of convenience stores, supermarkets and consumer advocates has been thwarted in the legislature.
House Bill 1279 would have allowed a supermarket to buy the license of a neighboring liquor store from its owners in the industry's most creative attempt yet to secure the beverages for their stores.
Calling herself "a realistic person," bill sponsor Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said she didn't have the votes to pass HB 1279 and asked the House Finance Committee to kill it. The vote was quick and unanimous.
Almost as quickly, the threat of two sales-expanding ballot initiatives that for months loomed large over the legislative debate seemed to fade, with powerhouse backers saying they've not yet decided to throw their full weight behind them.
Members of the Colorado Retail Council, one of the main backers of initiatives 48 and 65, are pausing to consider their options in the wake of the bill's death, president Chris Howes said.
There's a lot at stake.
"We're going to wait for the session to be over. We've got a little bit of time to understand the options we have before us," Howes said. "There's no doubt about it. If you lose in the fall, I don't think you'll have many legislators interested in running the bill next year."
Initiative 48 would end 3.2 percent low-alcohol beer; allow grocery stores to sell all forms of alcohol; allow convenience stores to sell stronger beer; and allow liquor-store proprietors to own more than one location.
Initiative 65 would only allow grocery stores to sell all forms of alcohol.
Under current rules, most grocery stores can sell only low-alcohol beer, with the full panoply of adult beverages allowed in just one store per chain. HB 1279 would have changed that.
A second bill to allow full-strength suds in convenience stores - now also limited to only low-alcohol beer - died in the same committee earlier this year.
But both proposals progressed further than previous bills aimed at expanding alcohol sales.
Liquor-store advocates Wednesday celebrated the death of HB 1279 in the hall outside the committee room.
The stores have waged war against changes to Colorado's liquor law by arguing that expanding sales would provide easier access to minors and put mom-and-pop liquor stores out of business.
Their advocates said they'd welcome a ballot initiative to put the question to rest.
"We're tan, rested and ready," said Jeanne McEvoy, president of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association. "I don't get the feeling they're going (with the initiative). There's no public support for it."
Too much of the legislative debate focused on the effects on businesses, when the real winners or losers are consumers who want greater convenience, said Blake Harrison, who filed initiatives 48 and 65.
Still, with the statutory July 12 deadline looming, Harrison said he won't be able to gather the 76,047 signatures required to make the ballot without the help of the still-undecided grocers and the business community.
"It really has become a fight between the grocery stores and the liquor stores. Meanwhile, the people aren't getting what they want and haven't been for a long time," Harrison said. "It's perfect for a ballot initiative. That's what the process is there for."