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Laws for the 21st century


A decade ago, some big brain inside the Colorado Springs Police Department dusted off an old city ordinance that outlawed cussing in city parks.

Police officers, intent on going to battle with unruly teenagers who were scaring away downtown Christmas shoppers, descended upon Acacia Park and started handing out $50 citations like court candy. One young man was overheard talking to his friends, describing something he had experienced as "bullshit." An officer wrote him a ticket, to which the young man responded, "This is bullshit." The officer issued him a second citation.

Then-City Attorney Jim Colvin figured the old law dated from the early 1900s. He surmised that some early mayor of the city had been walking through the park, was offended by an immoral utterance he heard and proceeded to City Hall, where he got the statute passed. Colvin conceded the cussing-in-the-park ban was, indeed, outdated. He also noted that if cussing were indeed illegal, his wife could have been issuing him citations two or three times a day.

So, after a bit of prodding from the American Civil Liberties Union, out went the cursing ban.

Now it's time to throw out the ban on buying liquor on Sundays.

This year, the Colorado Legislature is considering a law that would allow liquor stores to open and sell booze on Sundays. As simple as this proposition may seem, it has been the source of extended controversy, most recently for mom-and-pop store owners who want to be able to take off Sundays.

But for many people who have moved to Colorado in recent years, as for many of us who have called the Centennial State home for a long time, the notion that liquor stores must close on Sundays is peculiar, confusing and plain dumb. So, too, are a few other rules of Colorado's liquor trade, like these:

Convenience stores and grocery stores can sell only "near-beer," or 3.2 percent beer. They can sell this beer on Sundays.

Big retail outlets, like Target, King Soopers and Safeway, can sell wine and hard liquor from only one of their Colorado stores.

Beyond the one-store exception, big supermarkets cannot sell wine, liquor or full-strength beer.

You can certainly buy alcoholic beverages at bars and restaurants on Sundays.

Colorado's ban is often referred to as one of a few remaining "blue laws," believed so-named because they were written on blue paper and date to the 1600s, when things like shaving, traveling, commerce, dancing, cooking and kissing were outlawed on Sundays in keeping with the morality of the era.

The rules are archaic, a remnant of the olden days, which are fun to read about and laugh about but not very practical when you want to run out and pick up a bottle of wine to go with dinner and, damn, it happens to be Sunday.

Colorado Springs was founded by the teetotaler William Jackson Palmer who, among other things, favored trees, wide city streets, polo fields and genteel living. He abhorred the alcohol and carousing that made places like nearby Colorado City and Cripple Creek the cesspools of the day and he successfully kept liquor banned from this city until after the end of Prohibition in the late 1930s.

As history books also detail, the ax-wielding Carrie Nation made at least two appearances in the region. Just more than a century ago, the woman with the fire-and-brimstone oratory and national reputation as the nightmare of saloonkeepers everywhere, arrived in Cripple Creek and reportedly swung her hatchet at Johnny Nolon's Saloon.

Last week in Colorado, a legislative committee approved a bill to allow liquor stores to remain open on Sundays, though another bill was killed that would have allowed full-strength beer and wine sales at supermarket outlets.

Analysts predict Sunday sales could generate an extra $4 million in taxes a year. If they're smart, lawmakers should insist on using at least part of that cash to help resurrect this state's nearly nonexistent (to put it politely) programs to treat alcoholics and substance abusers.

That's nothing to cuss about.

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