Bills Introduced for Full-Strength Beer Sales in Colorado C-Stores

And liquor bills advance in Iowa, Georgia

DENVER-- State Senator Betty Boyd (D) has introduced a bill to permit convenience stores to sell full-strength beer, and State Representative Larry Liston (R) has filed a measure to let both grocery and c-stores sell full-strength beer, reported The Denver Daily News.

Grocery stores and c-stores can currently only sell beer with a 3.2% alcohol content. Boyd's bill would also allow restaurants and bars to sell beer with a low alcohol content, said the report.

Despite similar proposals being killed three times before, Liston is cautiously optimistic on his [image-nocss] bill's chances for passing because "the customer awareness is much more heightened this year," he told the newspaper. He said that he believes Coloradans have become fed up with states "archaic and obsolete" liquor law and want a change.

"I have no illusions that this is a slam dunk, but I think we have better than a 50-50 chance," he added.

Opponents, however, said the proposed bills are a "two-for-one special that promises to close Colorado businesses and allow minors to sell alcohol to minors." They argue that allowing grocery stores and c-stores to sell full-strength beer would put smaller liquor stores out of business.

"These are the only bills in the legislature that are sure to kill jobs and force dozens of local Colorado businesses to close," said a statement from State Rep. James Kerr (R) cited by the paper. "The last thing we should be doing in a recession is pushing bills we know will hurt Colorado businesses and send money off to out-of-state special interest."

But Sean Duffy, a spokesperson for a coalition of grocery stores supporting Liston's bill, said critics who claim the bill would cost jobs do not have "much to hang their mug on." He believes that grocery stores, one of the state's largest employers, would maintain and add jobs under Liston's bill and help the state's economy.

On the other hand, Argonaut Wine & Liquor Store Owner Ron Vaughn said last year that the grocery stores could use their existing staff to sell the additional full-strength beer, while jobs would be lost from liquor stores if such a measure passed.

The push for full-strength beer in grocery stores and c-stores escalated after the legislature passed a bill in 2008 to let liquor stores stay open and sell alcohol on Sundays, the report said. Grocery stores and c-store owners say that they have lost business since the bill passed and believe Boyd or Liston's bill would help bring some of that business back.

For his part, Liston said that his push to allow grocery stores and c-stores to sell full-strength beer is all about the consumers. "This is something that the consumers want and it's good for Colorado and will provide good quality jobs for Coloradans and give Coloradans an option that they've never had before," he told the paper.

In Iowa, a bill that would make it easier for c-stores to sell hard liquor has passed the Iowa House by a wide margin with little discussion, reported Radio Iowa. Current Iowa law says if a store sells gasoline, it can sell hard liquor, but only in an area walled off from the rest of the establishment.

The c-stores have lobbied to remove that restriction in the last two legislative sessions only to see the bills die in the House. State Representative Stu Iverson (R) managed the miscellaneous bill that includes the c-store change.

"This bill would allow them to use a common entrance and use the same cash register, if they chose to sell liquor, it would not have to be in a separate room with a separate cash register. That's the only difference," he told the news outlet.

The bill would let c-stores sell distilled spirits the same way they sell beer, at the same register where they sell everything else. Iverson said the c-stores say it does not make a lot of sense to keep a separate cash register, a separate entrance, a separate person to handle the hard liquor sales.

Critics of teen drinking opposed the change in the past, said the report, as did grocery stores that feared the competition. Lawmakers said grocers have dropped their opposition as this year's version of the bill includes a new fee structure to protect retailers' profits.

And in Georgia, legislation that could lead to Sunday retail sales of liquor cleared the state Senate Wednesday, marking the most significant progress on an issue that has languished for years, The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.

Senators voted 32 to 22 in favor of a bill that would let local elected officials ask voters in their communities whether to allow supermarkets, c-stores and liquor stores to sell beer, wine and liquor on Sundays.

Supporters of the legislation, which now moves to the state House, pitched it as more about local control than the morality of selling and drinking alcohol on the Christian Sabbath, the report said.

Opponents accused the legislation's supporters of hiding behind local control to avoid political retribution from business groups, which have lobbied heavily for Sunday sales. "Local control is a nice buzzword," State Senator Bill Cowsert (R) told his Senate colleagues. "What it is is political cover for you."

Cowsert and others also warned that allowing Sunday retail sales of liquor would lead to more alcohol-related deaths and injuries on Georgia highways.

But State Senator Steve Thompson (D) said the real reason some Republican lawmakers shrink from Sunday sales is their fear of the wrath of religious conservatives back in their districts. The Christian Coalition of Georgia spearheaded opposition to the bill, said the report.

But the vote belied the notion that Sunday sales is a partisan issue, said the report. In the end, 17 Republicans supported the bill, while five Democrats voted against it.

Former Governor Sonny Perdue also stood in the way by threatening to block any Sunday sales bill passed by the General Assembly. But Governor Nathan Deal, who took office in January, has said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.