Grocers’ sales of wine, beer still unresolved
The Denver man pushing a proposed initiative to allow grocery stores to sell wine and full-strength beer hopes his measure doesn’t reach the ballot next fall, but only if some state lawmaker decides to bring the idea up during next year’s legislative session.
Blake Harrison, a Denver deputy district attorney and candidate for the House seat occupied by Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, hopes someone in the Legislature will save him the trouble of having to get final approval for his idea, and getting the 76,000 signatures needed to get it on the 2010 ballot.
“My plan is to wait and see if this encourages someone to do it,” the Democrat said. “If not, I will go forward with a ballot question, and I’ll look for some support to get it through. I did a ballot measure with Sunday sales a few years ago, and the Legislature finally approved it in 2008.”
Harrison said he’s already reached out to House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, in hopes either, or both, will carry the mantle.
Both have expressed support for it in the past. Weissmann was one of the first lawmakers to push for allowing the sale of liquor on Sundays; Shaffer carried a measure to allow grocery sales in 2008, which he ultimately pulled. Harrison’s proposed ballot question is almost identical to that measure.
Still, Harrison may get his wish thanks to a Pueblo lawmaker who last year tried to do something similar.
Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, had introduced a measure during this year’s session to get rid of the state’s 3.2 beer law, which would have allowed grocery stores to begin selling stronger brews. That effort failed, but McFadyen said she is considering drafting a bill that would do nearly everything Harrison is seeking.
“Right now, I’m sitting back with some amusement at the guy who is pushing this,” McFadyen said of Harrison, who has taken some heat from opponents of the idea. “Not a lot of people want to take this up because it is an explosive issue, but I am considering having legislation drafted because I think it’s an unfair, Soviet-style protection of one product.”
She is facing her final session and, like several others, is term-limited and barred from running again.
As a result, McFadyen said she might be willing to suffer through the long committee hearings that likely will result from it, in part, because she believes liquor store lobbyists lied to her about the matter last year.
In 2008, McFadyen said she and other lawmakers agreed to vote in favor of getting rid of the Sunday-sales ban in exchange for their support in allowing grocery store sales.
“I should have known better,” she said. “I’ll never agree to something like that again.”
Like McFadyen, other lawmakers aren’t sure if they’ll back the idea, at least not until they can see what a bill would look like.
Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, said that while she likes the idea of opening up the market, doing so during the economic crisis may not be the best time.
“I’m a free-market capitalist, but the last time, I supported the liquor stores,” the freshman lawmaker said. “Liquor stores would have a really tough time with this, especially the first 18 months or so. Other states have done it and they weathered it, but I don’t know if this is the best economic time to try it here.”
Meanwhile, opponents already are lining up. Jeanne McEvoy, executive director of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said her group plans to oppose any measure whether it’s on the ballot or in the Legislature.
McEvoy said the idea not only will put several small liquor stores out of business, but also place alcohol closer to places children frequent.
Besides, she said, even the grocery stores don’t much care for Harrison’s idea because it would limit how much beer and wine they could sell.
“We like convenience, but we’ve got to be responsible,” McEvoy said. “The Legislature has tried this two years in a row, and clearly they know this is not how we want to address responsible retailing in Colorado.”