Veiga Sponsors Blue-Law Repeal
by Ari Armstrong, January 24, 2005
It took a Denver Democrat to introduce legislation expanding economic liberty.
As Lynn Bartels reviews in an excellent article for the January 22 Rocky Mountain News, State Senator Jennifer Veiga, a Democrat from Denver, has introduced Senate Bill 77 to repeal a section of the blue laws that prohibits the sale of most alcohol on Sundays.
"I've always thought the ban on Sunday sales on booze is silly," Veiga told Bartels. Silly, yes, and a blatant violation of individual rights to pursue economic trade. "I don't think the state should be in the business of dictating when a private business is open," Veiga added.
An information box that accompanies the article reviews current law and the proposed change. Unfortunately, Veiga's bill would only "allow local governments to decide whether liquor stores can sell booze from noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays." The legislature should lift the ban entirely (along with the ban on car sales), without the restriction in hours.
Currently, the News reports, 1,575 stores are licensed to sell liquor. They may not sell liquor on Sundays or Christmas. There is an exception: "Certain Colorado wineries that use at least 75 percent of locally grown products can sell on Sundays." Liquor stores "[c]an only sell alcohol and alcohol-related products, such as limes and corkscrews." 1,750 stores are licensed to sell "[o]nly fermented malt beverages that are not more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or 4 percent by volume..." Such stores "may sell other commodities, such as food" (which is why grocery stores generally sell "3.2 beer"). The reduced-alcohol beverages may be sold from "5 a.m. to midnight daily."
Bartels reviews two main arguments for maintaining the ban. Some favor the ban because they believe it enables the legislature to socially engineer behavior. Others favor it for reasons of outright economic protectionism.
Bartels quotes a Democrat and a Republican from the State Senate who favor the ban. She writes, "[Democrat Bob] Hagedorn said that Sunday sales send the wrong message for a state grappling with binge drinking on campuses and other alcohol-abuse problems." In other words, Hagedorn wants to violate the rights of hundreds of thousands of Coloradans because of the irresponsibility of a small minority. Besides, Hagedorn's laughable assertion is obviously politically self-serving: if he really wanted to "send a message," he would propose banning alcohol on Friday and Saturday, when most abuse occurs. It is the legislature's job to keep people from initiating violence, theft, and fraud. It is not the legislature's job to play Big Nanny and "send" us allegedly moral "messages." By opposing economic liberty on Sundays, the only message Hagedorn has sent is that he is a hypocrite who wishes to subvert justice to social nannying and political advantage.
Similarly, Shawn Mitchell, the Republican, told Bartels, "I don't think we have a problem selling too little liquor in the world... If there weren't a law right now, I wouldn't vote to ban sales on Sunday. But I think it might be healthy to let them stay closed one day a week." However, it is not the job of the legislature to decide how much liquor people buy or whether selling products on certain days of the week is "healthy." What is unhealthy is for alleged Republicans to back socialistic legislation that controls economic activity. Like the comments of fellow Nanny Statist Hagedorn, Mitchell's position is hypocritical. If Mitchell really thought the law is a good idea, then he would want to introduce it if it didn't exist. His dithering indicates that he, too, is motivated more by politics.
Bartels reveals a protectionist argument that I hadn't considered before. She writes, "Most liquor store owners don't support Sunday sales, said Chuck Ford, lobbyist for the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association. He said if liquor stores can sell on Sundays, the stores that sell 3.2 beverages will argue it's unfair competition. They'll want to sell 'real' beer, wine and liquor, too. 'The big-box outlets will destroy mom-and-pop operations,' Ford said."
Obviously, prohibiting grocery stores from selling other liquor is unfair and also a violation of economic liberty. So some owners of liquor stores want to keep their monopoly on hard liquor, and in exchange they are willing to give grocery-type stores a monopoly on Sunday sales.
But it is not the job of the legislature to impose economic protectionism to the advantage of certain businesses -- and to the disadvantage of other businesses and consumers. It doesn't matter how many lobbyists the protectionists hire or how many campaign contributions they make -- economic protectionism is an unjust violation of individual rights, and it should be abolished.
Business owners have a right to sell whatever alcoholic beverages they choose, and consumers have a right to buy them. It's possible that "big-box outlets" are able to achieve greater economies of scale, lower prices, and better selection. It's also possible that some "mom-and-pop operations" are able to offer better service and specialty items. Regardless, consumers have a right to buy from whomever they please, without legislative interference.
Though Veiga's bill is too limited, its passage would be a good step toward the achievement of economic liberty and the overturning of protectionism. Shame on the big-government Republicans who will undoubtedly vote against Veiga's bill. Three cheers for those from both parties who choose to defend economic liberty in this matter.
For more information about blue laws in Colorado, please see the following articles.