Beer debate spills out of committee and onto the floor of the Colorado legislature

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This was not going to be the year that the legislature poured its time and energy into fixing this state's arcane liquor laws. These old laws still have big brewers making watered-down beer for sale in convenience and grocery stores in Colorado -- one of only five states that still call for 3.2, or "Prohibition beer."

In addition, these regulations have banned restaurants and bars from serving certain light beers to diners, because it's so much smarter to have them drinking higher-alcohol beers.

There are other anachronistic facets of the Colorado liquor laws, many of them dating back to just after Prohibition, including the circa 1935 stipulation that a retail store operator cannot hold more than one liquor license. That's the odd rule that has resulted in exactly one Target, one Safeway and one King Soopers in the state having an attached liquor store -- and also, of course, the rule that prohibits a mom-and-pop shop from having a second store, unless someone else in the family gets the license.

The laws are frustrating and out-of-date, but still, this was not going to be the year lawmakers were awash in beer bills. There were just too many other issues to deal with -- and even though for the last four years grocery stores, or convenience stores, or both, had pushed for changes, those measures had been killed in committee.

Even Blake Harrison, who was a University of Denver law student in 2002 when he first put together a ballot issue to allows liquor sales on Sunday (that change finally went through in 2008), didn't plan to make another push this year. After his fight last year to put a measure on the ballot that would have allowed liquor stores and grocery stores to sell full-strength beer dried up, he thought this would be a year to sit things out.

But then Governor John Hickenlooper decided to cut some stupid red tape for craft brewers, one of this state's true growth industries, and suddenly the beer battle spilled over in the legislature. And after a six-pack of a hearing yesterday, the House Economic and Business Development Committee sent Representative Larry Liston's bill -- which would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell any beer (and restaurants and bars to do the same) -- to the floor, making this the first time in years that the House might really discuss the entire issue.

Beer here! Another round of debate, barkeep.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "John Hickenlooper has more fun at reunion than dealing with billion-dollar budget shortfall."

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