Liquor law goes back to the drawing board

3/6/2014

By CASEY HUTCHINS

By CASEY HUTCHINS

KU Statehouse Wire Service

TOPEKA — A bill to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell strong beer, wine and liquor is being substantially revised, with legislators proposing to make the change slowly and with several restrictions.

The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Committee presented its draft summary of proposed changes Thursday. They would use the original bill as a template, but phase in the retail liquor sales over 10 years.

Committee chairman Marvin Kleeb said the original bill would have been too disruptive to Kansans who had made business plans based on current liquor laws.

"If there's one common thread most everyone on this committee is concerned about not pulling the rug out and making some overnight change," said Kleeb, R-Overland Park. "The current version of House Bill 2556 is probably nowhere near what we need to have to be seriously considered."

Kleeb said the draft of the substitute bill is 90 percent completed but is open to amendment over the next week. He said the committee would like to create a bill that appeases the original proponents and addresses the concerns of the original opponents.

The drafted bill would install a 10-year cap on Class A liquor licenses beginning July 1. Retailers would have to find liquor stores willing to sell them the licenses, which allow the sale of beer, wine and spirits.

Proponents of the original bill, such as Uncork Kansas, had mixed feelings on the draft.

"We appreciate Chairman Kleeb's effort to move legislation forward and we anticipate continued dialogue on the proposal to alter House Bill 2556," said Jessica Lucas, a spokesperson for Uncork Kansas. "The fact is we still have opportunities — the bill is not dead; it has not been tabled."

Some were concerned with the increased number of retail businesses that could legally sell strong beer, wine and liquor in a specified area. The original bill would extend the opportunity to sell such beverages to an additional 3,000 businesses, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.

"There's a strong correlation with youth consumption and density," said Ross Schimmels, vice president of external affairs for Standard Beverage Corporation. "There are a lot of other bad social ills that go along with that. From a public safety standpoint, we don't think we need an additional 3,000 outlets selling alcoholic beverages."

The proposed substitute bill would prohibit the issuance of a liquor license to a grocery or convenience store within a half-mile radius of another licensee. For small, rural areas, the radius would be 10 miles. Legislators agreed this, as well as all other parts of the draft, would be open to revision.

"Obviously, 2556 as it was originally written was not a good bill or we would not be having a substitute bill," Schimmels said. "This is a lot different."

Schimmels said he was still skeptical of the substitute bill.

The official rewrite of the bill is expected Tuesday.

Casey Hutchins is a University of Kansas junior from Lawrence majoring in journalism.

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