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Colorado lawmakers plan to introduce legislation allowing convenience stores and grocery stores to sell full-strength beer, after rules on the sale of low-strength beer were changed to make it easier for restaurants and liquor stores to offer those brands.
Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, said Tuesday there was a perception of favoritism after the state Department of Revenue approved emergency rules this month that helped brew pubs sell low-strength beer.
"This was law. I am trying to understand why it could suddenly be overturned by the executive branch," Liston said of the administration of Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Department director Roxy Huber said she was trying to cut red tape, as promised by Hickenlooper, a former brew pub owner, during his campaign for governor last year.
Huber told lawmakers she was forced to implement an emergency rule because she had a 10-day deadline, and her staff boiled down the rules to make it easier for beer sellers to comply. She said hearings will be held in April on more permanent rules.
"As the new governor has indicated, red tape is something he wants all of his executive directors to be very cognizant of," she told a joint hearing of the House Economic and Business Development Committee and the House Finance Committee on Tuesday.
Restaurants and liquor stores for years have sold the so-called 3.2 beer and other low-strength brews despite state law that says they can only sell stronger varieties. Only convenience stores and groceries could sell low-strength beer.
Hickenlooper rejected suggestions that he showed favoritism and said he was surprised at the criticism that followed
"I didn't understand that I was kicking a hornet's nest," he said. "I thought we were all trying to relieve burdens on small businesses, on all businesses."
Convenience store owners, represented by the Colorado-Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, accused Hickenlooper of siding with restaurants and craft brewers in the dispute, after the state Department of Revenue eliminated a rule that would have required all brewers and importers to report the alcohol content of their products on labels.
The rules now say state officials can test beer, but it isn't required.