Bipartisan vote kills bill to fix ‘glitch’ in grocery liquor-sales

DENVER — Some called it a simple cleanup bill, but others said a measure dealing with last year’s law opening full-strength liquor sales to grocery stores did a lot more than that.

Because of that dispute, a measure that was intended to fix a glitch in last year’s law died on a surprising bipartisan 18-17 vote Monday.

“A lot of the people that are involved in this internally and externally (of the statehouse) are really unclear and uncertain about how all this comes together and how it’s being determined,” said Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs. “This is a tough decision because several of my mom-and-pop (liquor stores) are saying, ‘It doesn’t sound like a bad deal.’ But then I have several that said, ‘I hate this. This is going to destroy us.’ So it’s going to be a hard decision for a lot of us on how to vote on this.”

In the end, it was a squeaker, with Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, casting the deciding vote. Like Baumgardner, the region’s other local lawmakers — Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail — all voted against the bill.

Supporters of the measure, SB143, immediately called out its proponents, saying they played some dirty tricks in getting the bill killed.

In a note to senators before they cast that vote, Jeanne McEvoy, chief executive officer of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said some state legislators were being duped.

McEvoy said it was Walmart and Target that really made last year’s “historic” compromise a reality, which allowed the sale of full-strength beer, wine and alcohol sales in grocery stores over a 20-year phase-in period. But because of “mistakes and oversights” in the original law, this year’s measure was needed to fix it all, she said.

“Unfortunately, in January a few individuals who have a narrow legislative agenda formed a front group called ‘Support Your Local Liquor Store’ to confuse legislators on the true intent of SB17-143 and blow up this historic deal in order to try to pass alternative legislation,” McEvoy wrote.

“Who are you going to listen to,” she asked. “The CLBA ... that has been the voice of your local liquor stores for more than 63 years, or a newly formed LLC, less than two months old, formed by a lobbyist?”

In lieu of that bill, that group had urged lawmakers to support SB195 instead, a measure that would have allowed independent liquor stores to do the same thing that current law provides to grocery stores. That bill died in a Senate committee late last month. Now they are pushing SB199, a nearly identical measure.

Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, who carried last year’s law and this year’s measure, said the 2016 compromise on alcohol sales was designed to allow the state to expand competition while still protecting existing businesses.

“The intent is to be able to clarify and implement (the law) so that we continue to be able to protect the small businesses,” Williams said.

Other senators, however, said they were under the impression that Walmart was only interested in selling full-strength beer when last year’s measure was passed, but now have changed their minds and want to sell all forms of alcohol.

“I did reach out to the governor’s office, and their understanding as well was that Walmart was interested in full-strength beer and not full liquor,” said Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, who also voted against the bill. “No one is arguing that they were at the (negotiating) table with, I’m told, 10 lawyers, so apparently those 10 lawyers did not earn their money last year because the bill needs to be fixed.”

Under the law passed last year, grocery stores wishing to sell full-strength alcohol that have two or more existing liquor stores within 1,500 feet of their front entrances can obtain liquor licenses if they can come to an agreement to purchase those stores and then combine them into a single outlet. Stores in rural communities with less than 10,000 residents have a wider, 3,000-foot requirement.

If no such stores exist, they can sell liquor as long as they can get a license to do so from a local government.

That law, however, applied only to grocery stores that also have their own liquor-licensed drugstores. Walmart and Target have such stores, but they are licensed to other companies, barring them from participating in the new law. The bill was designed to fix that.

As part of the compromise, the law also gave something to existing liquor stores, allowing them to sell food and other non-alcoholic products as long as those sales don’t exceed 20 percent of their overall sales.

Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, said that “historic deal” was not much of a deal, at least not for small liquor stores.

“The only thing that is historic about this is that it is a historic giveaway and destruction of the liquor industry that we have built in the state,” Marble said. “A lot of us really don’t even know what’s going on (with the new bill). What the liquor store owners did was put their trust in us and in their leaders to do the right thing. I’ll tell you what, epic fail.”


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