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The first bill Jared Polis will sign into law involves beer

The legislation expected to clear the House on Wednesday fixes an issue with law allowing full-strength beer sales

Steve Findley, the president of the Colorado Beer Distributors Association, talks to Breton Shepherd inside the Elite Brands of Colorado distribution warehouse in Denver. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)
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The first bill Colorado Gov. Jared Polis will sign is worth a celebratory beer.

The measure — which is expected to get final legislative approval Wednesday — is intended to fix a problem with the law that allowed the sale of full-strength beer in grocery and convenience stores starting Jan. 1.

The state’s Liquor Enforcement Division agreed to waive enforcement of the current law to give Colorado lawmakers time to address the problems regarding how beer is made, stored and delivered.

“We have a waiver from liquor enforcement until Feb. 1, so we do have to get it down to the governor’s desk,” said House Democratic leader Alec Garnett, a bill sponsor. “And I do believe it will be the first bill that Gov. Polis signs into law.”

Colorado lawmakers approved far-reaching legislation in 2016 — and a related bill in 2018 — that expanded full-strength beer sales to grocery and convenience stores.

MORE: What to know about the end of 3.2 beer in Colorado.

It represented the largest change to the state’s alcohol laws since Prohibition. Prior to Jan. 1, only liquor stores could sell full-strength beer — grocers were limited to 3.2 beer, those brands with 4 percent alcohol by volume or less.

But the law didn’t remove the dual licensing rules. So, unless it is changed, brewers would need to segregate a batch of beer headed to grocery and convenience stores from the batches destined for sale at liquor stores. Likewise, a distributor would need to store the beer intended for the two different retail outlets in different spaces at the warehouse — and deliver them separately, too.

“Even though it’s under one roof, it would still require (one) on one side and full-strength on this other side — even though you can’t tell the difference,” said Steve Findley, the president of the Colorado Beer Distributors Association, as he toured the Elite Brands of Colorado Warehouse earlier this week.

MORE: What the new law on beer sales means for Colorado craft brewers.

Under Senate Bill 11, the state would consolidate the licenses for beer makers, distributors and importers to eliminate the conflicting rules in existing law. Without it, brewers and distributors said they would need to add production equipment and storage space, making the new law untenable.

“That’s what happens when you have three days left in the session and you try to jam through something as complex as the liquor laws that haven’t been touched since Prohibition. Stuff falls through the cracks,” said Mike Pfalmer, the president of RMC Distributing in Colorado Springs.

The legislation received unanimous approval in the state Senate and a similar result is expected Wednesday in the House. The governor is expected to sign the measure.

Staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

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