Jerry Kopel


"My wine is your wine". That's not exactly the theme song for Rudy Vallee (I guess that really dates me), but it is the theme song for small, independent winemakers throughout the nation.

This year, Rep. Kay Alexander, R-Montrose and Sen. Ron Teck, R-Grand junction, introduced HB 1320, "Concerning the Sale of Wine by Certain Colorado licensees." Both legislators represent the Western Slope, where wine making has flourished as an industry. Their bill didn't make it out of House Agriculture Committee, no doubt waylaid by lobbyists for wholesaler, distributor and retail liquor licensees.

The small wineries won their first battle back in 1987, when Sen. Tillie Bishop-R, and Rep. Vickie Armstrong-R, introduced SB 94. The bill allowed winemakers in another state to ship no more than two cases (total 18 liters) to an adult Colorado resident who has ordered the same, if THAT state allowed Colorado wineries to do the same for residents from that state.

SB 94 did NOT require the adult Colorado resident to appear in person at an out-of-state winery in order to make a purchase order. That language was added to the bill on the House floor during second reading by House sponsor Rep. Armstrong. The bill then passed 51 to 10, and the Senate readopted the bill as amended.

Of course, that amendment severely limited the movement of wines, say, from a California winery to an adult in Colorado. If you happened to be in California and went out of your way to visit a winery, you could get the wine shipped. Otherwise, if you wanted a particular wine, you had to visit your retail liquor dealer in Colorado. (Good for people with money to travel and bad for the rest of the voters.)

This year's bill, HB 1320, would have allowed a purchaser to buy by "mail, facsimile, telephone, electronic mail, or other means of electronic communication with the licensed premises," which is what SB 94 would have originally allowed.

What the small wineries (and I imagine they are banded together at a national level) need in Colorado is a strong cadre of lobbyists, their well-paid knights on horseback to joust with the liquor lobby knights.

The Wall Street Journal, in a recent editorial, reported there were only 20 states, many subject to limitations such as Colorado's, where adults can buy directly from an out-of-state winery.

The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did more than just repeal the earlier 18th Amendment which had prohibited intoxicating liquors. The 21st Amendment provided:

"The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the U.S. for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited." That clause made in legal for Colorado to either ban or reduce the sale directly to adults from an out-of-state winery.

HB 1320 will no doubt be back in 2000, but any future bill should probably include some language that reduces the possibility (to be raised by the liquor industry) of sale to persons not yet 21.

* * *

Please pardon these mixed metaphors, but a boiling kettle about to explode is being swept under the rug. I'm referring to the third Webb administration starting off by putting entertainment (some might label it "culture") ahead of safety. Of all the bond issues that will be on the November, 1999 ballot, one that won't be there is the Denver County Jail.

Mayor Wellington Webb takes credit for the decrease in Denver crime. That's okay, since it happened on his watch. The city's FIRST priority has to be to protect its citizens and the way to decrease crime is to lock up the guilty.

However, the booking jail in downtown Denver and the county jail near Stapleton are bursting with prisoners, the county jail being nearly fifty percent over capacity. That's a perfect formula for a riot and jailbreak, for judicial action after a civil liberties lawsuit to FORCE the city to provide more space, and for the city to get a lot of bad press. You can't pack three humans in a space built for two without asking for trouble.

Denver County Sheriff John Simonet is making comments, often buried deep in news stories, that will become headlines if anything bad happens at the county jail. The Denver Rocky Mountain News seems to be the only major paper to intensely follow the issue.

After the most recent jail escape, Simonet is quoted in the News as saying it's difficult to prevent escapes when the jail is over- crowded and inmates eligible for work release are housed in the same area as felons. "If we weren't as crowded, things like that wouldn't happen."

In another story, "the deputies have horrible working conditions" because the two jails are jammed with 2,300 inmates in space built for 1,500. "It's hot because the ventilation can't keep up with the crowding. That raises tempers." And deputy sheriffs are quitting to get better paying deputy jobs in suburban jails.

If the city does nothing about jail conditions, it is left with several choices: Transfer prisoners to other county jails and pay through the nose; let prisoners out early; or choose to keep all but the most horrific criminals out of jail and on the streets.

The mayor wants to spend $125 million for the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Zoo if voters approve in November. I like both places, but that is entertainment, what the mayor calls "making the city more livable."

According to Simonet as quoted in the News, the city could begin rebuilding the county jail at its present site "by tearing down and rebuilding in three stages", for $120-$180 million. "We're already here" Simonet told the News. The closer Simonet gets to retirement, the more his frustration shows, and the bolder his comments.

I already know how I'm going to vote. It's "no" on entertainment. That $125 million would go a long way towards increasing the capacity of the present county jail, along with $30 million the Mayor apparently has in reserve for the jail.

If the jail isn't expanded, we'll definitely have four prisoners in every space designed for two, before Webb's final term ends.

Safety first, Mr. Mayor.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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