CO: Hickenlooper unsure if he will sign compromise bill on grocery alcohol sales
Denver Business Journal
By Ed Sealover, Reporter
May 12, 2016
Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday that he does not know if he will sign or veto a compromise bill on grocery-store alcohol sales, saying that he does not understand the measure yet and wants to ensure that it does not hurt small breweries and liquor stores.
A coalition of formerly feuding interest groups ranging from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to independently owned corner liquor stores coalesced around Senate Bill 197 in the final week of the legislative session that adjourned on Wednesday night. They agreed to the measure — which would allow grocers to get 19 more full-alcohol-sales licenses in the next 20 years and require them to buy out the licenses of nearby liquor stores — because they viewed it as a better option than a proposed ballot measure that would allow all 390 grocery stores in the state to sell full-strength wine and beer by July 2017.
However, Hickenlooper, a co-founder of Wynkoop Brewing Co., said that he needs more convincing that this is a good move, rather than just the better of two bad options — especially as Safeway and King Soopers, two of the primary supporters of the proposed ballot initiative, say they plan to move forward on their efforts and look into legal action against SB 197. They are concerned that provisions in the bill, including a requirement that there be no other liquor stores operating within 1,500 feet of them, would supersede the will of the voters.
Hickenlooper said candidly that he does not understand all of the provisions of the bill — and that he has asked several legislators to explain SB 197 to him and could not get full answers. So, he will sit down and examine how it could impact the state’s alcohol-sales industry, which since Prohibition has allowed holders of liquor-sales licenses to have only one location.
He said he specifically plans to sit down with the 20 or 30 craft brewers that he knows well and ask them how much the bill would affect their ability to get their products on store shelves if independent liquor stores close. The Colorado Brewers Guild remains neutral on SB 197, concerned about provisions like one that would eliminate low-strength beer by 2019 and allow all grocers then to sell full-strength beer — though not wine or spirits — as of that date.
“I’ve got to read it and understand it,” the Democratic governor said during a media availability. “Too often no one looks out for the little guys. And I think that’s my job here is to look out for the little guys.”