Virus Outbreak Colorado

A sign hangs on the window of a restaurant advertising the establishment is still open for pickups and deliveries during a statewide stay-at-home order in an effort to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus, Friday, March 27, 2020. 

If customers have to get food to go, they should able to get alcohol to go with it, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association, which is mounting a legislative push around the subject.

In an email to members Saturday, the trade group said it would ask for a bill to allow establishments with on-premise liquor licenses to sell alcohol for off-premise consumption via takeout and delivery until at least July 1, 2022.

The General Assembly resumes its session Tuesday, after being on break since March 14 because of the state coronavirus emergency. Lawmakers are expected to take up the state budget, the school finance act, bills that continue programs or agencies and those that provide pandemic relief.

Booze to-go fits the latter category, according to the email from Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association.

"The passage of this proposal could be the difference between the food and beverage industry making it through this crisis or seeing many establishments close permanently," she told association members, urging them to talk to their legislators.

The proposal would allow a licensee to sell adult beverages in a sealed container for delivery or allow customers to take it with their to-go order. The state Liquor Enforcement Division would determine what qualifies as a sealed container. 

It's not a bar on wheels, however.

"The licensee must offer to sell food with each sale of an alcohol beverage," the association clarified. "If the licensee is not required to sell food, they must offer to sell at least prepackaged food which may be purchased from a retail food store."

As with all other liquor purchases, the consumer has to be at least 21 years old.

The legislature wrestles with the liquor licensing issues almost annually, so it remains to be seen if lawmakers are willing to take it up in a shortened assembly, which is expected to last about two weeks. As a crisis recovery proposal to help hard-hit small businesses, it might have the leverage it needs.

Last year, the legislature passed Senate Bill 28 to allow an on/off premises license in counties of less than 35,000 or in "underserved" areas, defined as being in an unincorporated area in town of less than 7,500.

The bill passed both chambers unanimously.

In 2016 and 2018 the General Assembly rewrote liquor licensing laws to allow the sell of full-strength beer with 3.2% alcohol in grocery stores and other retailers.

Two years ago, however, Senate Bill 243 required those establishments with licenses for on/off premises had to convert to either on- or off-premises to sell "fermented malt beverages" when their license was up for renewal.

Those will an off-premise licenses is still required to get at least 20% of its gross annual revenues from other food consumed off-premises, excluding fuel, cigarette, tobacco products and lottery tickets.

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