A bill to allow Colorado cities and counties to set their own closing time for bars passed out of the House Local Affairs Committee, 11-2, Wednesday afternoon.
The statewide closing time is 2 a.m. now.
Fran Lanzer, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Colorado, said the proposal would invite bar-hopping for later closing times. It also would set up conflicts between neighboring municipalities.
He noted that bars in Lakewood, Edgewater, Mountain View and west Denver are within 10 minutes of each other. If one of those towns extends bar hours, the other towns would have to beef up law enforcement. He said the state already is weathering an increase in traffic fatalities.
"We think this would be an increased risk to Colorado if we had different cities with different times," Lanzer said.
Cities already can designate "entertainment districts" and allow bars to stay open later. The legislature changed the law to allow them in 2011.
Castle Rock, Central City/Black Hawk, Crested Butte, Cripple Creek Frederick, Glendale, Greeley, Salida and Snowmass have those districts. Glendale didn't see an increase in accidents or arrests after it extended its bar hours, the committee heard.
House Bill 1123 is sponsored by Reps. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, and Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton.
Andrew Struttmann, speaking for the Colorado Bar Owners Association, said as more cities add entertainment districts with later hours it leaves those bars and restaurants outside the districts at a competitive disadvantage.
"Extended hours will also make our metropolitan areas more attractive tourist destinations allowing them to better compete with cities like Las Vegas or New York, or international destinations like London," he said. "Whether or not a local jurisdiction or establishment chooses to engage in extended hours, the opportunity to do so should be a choice made on a community or individual level, not just because that's the way it's always been."
Steven Alix, past president of the Tavern League of Colorado, said a uniform closing time means there aren't enough rides from Uber, Lyft or taxis at 2 a.m. to get drunk people home. Police also can't monitor all the traffic flowing out of bar districts at the uniform closing time, he said.
"If you dump a bucket of mice on the floor and you've only got three cats, you're only going to catch so many mice," Alix said.
Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, said he couldn't support any legislation that promotes more drinking.
"People are dying because of alcohol at twice the rate of firearms, and where's the outrage?" he said. "Rather than talking about gun control we should be talking about alcohol control."
The bill goes next to the House floor and, if it passes there, would move to the Senate and start all over in committee.