DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers rejected a proposal Monday to allow convenience stores, gas stations and grocery chains to sell full-strength beer, bringing a halt again to a debate that is almost an annual tradition at the state Capitol.
Lawmakers voted down the proposal after more than 2½ hours of arguments. Supporters say consumers should have more options about where they buy beer, while opponents say the bill would make alcohol more accessible to teens and harm small liquor stores that would compete with larger grocery stores.
Eighteen lawmakers rose in support of the bill during the vote count, which was not enough to move the bill forward.
The idea has failed several times in the past, but Monday's debate was the first time the issue has reached the floor of the Legislature. Colorado is among five states where gas stations, grocery stores and convenience stores are only allowed to sell beer with 3.2 percent alcohol content. Utah, Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma are the other states that restrict the sale of full-strength beer at places other than liquor stores.
Republican Rep. Larry Liston, who sponsored House Bill 1284, said he received more than 130,000 signatures in support of the legislation. He said all the supporters want is to be able to have the "simple choice" of where they can buy full-strength beer.
"If they should be filling up their gas tank at a convenience store, they can go in and get their favorite full-strength beer," he said. "Or what about the mother, or you, or the rest of us who might be shopping at the grocery store for friends and family, and your husband or your wife has said, 'Hey, will you remember to pick up a six pack of our favorite full-strength beer for the barbecue tonight?'"
Rep. Kevin Priola, another Republican who supported the bill, said it's not about pitting grocery stores, convenience stores and liquor stores against each other. "This is about the people," he said. "This is about choice of consumers and what do they want to buy and where do they want to purchase it."
Democratic Rep. Roger Wilson said there's a reason for laws governing alcohol sales.
"This will increase the amount of alcohol available to people at places where they shouldn't have it, which is when they're on the road," he said. "If we're going to sign up for the free-market philosophy totally, we would allow sales of alcoholic beverages of any kind anywhere — from your street vendors to your neighbor. It's ridiculous. We control alcohol in this state for a good reason."
Jeanne McEvoy, president and CEO of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said she hopes the bill's latest defeat will discourage similar proposals in the future.
"The liquor environment is not free market in any state," she said. "It's a regulated product, and the citizens want retailers to be very safe and not sell to minors, and they want to maintain the level of jobs that these small businesses offer."
Another proposal in the Senate would allow only convenience stores to sell full-strength beer.