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  home - beer news - HB-1186 Runs Out of Gas  
by Mike Laur
2/25/10
It’s an ugly thing.

Slow, clumsy, lurching from side to side, it staggers drunkenly much of the time. Tending towards torpor, it must be pushed, prodded and pulled constantly or it will fall over, bleating and helplessly kicking its legs. It’s a bloated beast that must be continuously fed and cared for. Too big to kill, it’s kept alive because we need it, warts and all.

Taking care of Government can be a real mess.

Colorado House Representative Larry Liston, a Republican from Colorado Springs, knows what a mess it can be. He lives in the belly of the beast. He was the lead caretaker of House Bill 1186, which would have permitted convenience stores of less than 5000 square feet in size to sell full strength beer, instead of 3.2 beer currently permitted in their stores. Liston co-wrote the bill with five other legislators and members of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association.

Yesterday, in an 8-3 vote, the Colorado State House Finance Committee killed HB 1186. The measure, which had already been approved by another committee, would have permitted convenience stores to sell “full strength” beer instead of 3.2 beer. Liston had hoped his protectionist bill would benefit in-store sales for convenience store owners, who he said had been hurt since July 2008, when Sunday liquor store sales were permitted in Colorado.

Liquor store owners and craft brewers lined up against HB 1186. Left Hand Brewing owner Eric Wallace said the main concern is and always has been access to the market. Liquor store retailers can and do cater to a wide marketplace, and sell Colorado craft beer in abundance. Brewers contend that convenience stores would push their offerings off the shelves in favor of the Big Three, and thus be excluded from the marketplace.

Following the vote, Liston shared little love for liquor store owners and the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association. “They say, no, no, no, no, no. They will never compromise, because they have a monopoly, and they will keep it till Hell freezes over.”

A Cold Day Indeed.

Committee member Ellen Roberts likened the process to being “a lab rat in a maze”, and characterized the proposed bill as a multitude of “layers of government interference in business, in this case retail liquor stores.” She voted against the measure.

Just before the final vote, Chairman Joel Judd tried to sum it all up from the Finance Committee perspective. “It’s tough out there, and this bill won’t change it very much. But it brings the state a little bit of revenue.” He suggested sending the bill along for the Appropriations committee to consider, but decided to let the buck stop there with his Committee. He sided with the convenience stores in voting yes.

At one point, Representative Daniel Kagan wondered aloud, “Why is there a need for this bill?"

Liquor Enforcement Division Director Laura Harris was on hand to answer, and points out some of the finer points of liquor regulation that were not directly addressed in HB1186. She testified that while retail liquor store owners may have one and only one license to sell alcohol, 3.2 licensees enjoy the opportunity to have multiple kinds of licenses. A corporate entity may also own multiple 3.2 licenses - “as many as you like”, according to Harris. Under HB1186, “Multiple malt liquor licenses would also be permitted. But it does not change the restriction of Retail Liquor Store licensees,” who would still be limited to one store.

Thank You Very Much. I’ll take two dozen.

Representative Liston, who said “I don’t drink beer, by the way,” lamented that this was another missed opportunity for legislators to act, when instead they opted to “kick the can down the road again.” He also expressed dismay with the craft brewers. “I frankly don’t understand where they’re coming from.”

Of course, it’s not over. There’s HB 1279, being pushed hard by the grocery store interests. It will allow grocery stores to sell beer and wine, or buy liquor licenses from individual retail liquor store owners within 1000 feet of the grocer. It’s a real messy piece of legislation that tries to play nice with everybody and winds up making the regulations even more confusing and convoluted.

If this piece of legislation doesn’t work out in favor of the grocery store special interest, then along comes Blake Harrison, a Denver lawyer and candidate for the State House. He’s threatened to unleash an even uglier initiative upon the voters, and get them to decide how beer gets sold in Colorado. Now there’s some sound logic: Let’s allow voters to decide how liquor laws get re-written. Representative Liston is not optimistic: “The initiative will be a mess. We have to clean up the mess.”

Like we said, dealing with the beast can get ugly.

Stay tuned for more information on these issues that could kill craft beer in Colorado as we know it.
 
Photo by Mike Laur © Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado
Your tax dollars at work. Rep. Larry Liston (right) discusses convienence store
sales statistics with the committee while Bill Gallagher with the
Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketing Association looks on.

Photo by Mike Laur © Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado
Eric Wallace of Lefthand Brewing Co. discusses potential
cooler sets with the committee members.

Photo by Mike Laur © Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado
A packed house listens to testimony. 1186 was defeated by the House Finance Committee 3-8.
 

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