By John Celock
In an end run around a potentially reluctant committee chairman, Kansas lawmakers passed a floor amendment that would allow businesses to host BYOB alcohol private events.
The state House of Representatives Wednesday approved a floor amendment that would exempt art stores and other businesses, including cigar shops and bed and breakfasts around the state from the liquor license law. The amendment only applies to BYOB alcohol at private parties at the facilities or brought by a private individual to enjoy with a cigar. The amendment is the latest attempt by lawmakers to end what has been an over weeklong standoff between lawmakers and the state Division of Alcohol Beverage Control over the policy relating to BYOB at private parties at art stores. At one point lawmakers took the step of defunding ABC for the next two years in order to get an exemption passed.
The floor amendment came hours after the House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on a bill that would allow the art stores to apply for a $25 annual permit for the BYOB private parties. The amendment is attached to a bill regulating alcohol consumption on public property at catered events.
“The committee chairman has been unclear if he intends to work the bill or only hold a hearing,” Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee), the amendment’s sponsor, told The Celock Report. “There has been reluctance to move forward.”
Under Hildabrand’s amendment, all art stores and cigar stores would be allowed to host the private events or allow a customer to enjoy alcohol they brought while in the store. Currently a series of private events are exempted from the state’s liquor laws including private parties at home and art walks at galleries.
The standoff started after Wichita officials began enforcing liquor licenses for art stores hosting private events with BYOB wine in the city. ABC had backed up the Wichita officials saying that a 1993 state attorney general’s opinion required the liquor licenses.
Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), who has been leading the art store BYOB effort in the Legislature, has argued that the attorney general’s opinion allowed for art stores to hold the events without a license. He said his opinion was backed up by legislative attorneys and was the practice around the state.
The attorney general’s opinion deals with publicly announced events and was centered on a dance opened to the public in Dodge City.
Claeys has noted that other art stores around the state have not been targeted by local police. An art store in Lawrence that holds similar BYOB wine private parties is located across the street from a police station. In the same plaza as the art store is a cigar shop that has allowed BYOB for patrons.
Claeys got the House Appropriations Committee to defund ABC’s budget for the next two years last week in an attempt to jumpstart the standoff. At the time a spokeswoman for the state Revenue Department, which oversees the alcohol agency, said they had been working with House Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Brunk (R-Wichita) since January on a bill to allow a permit process. Brunk introduced the long awaited bill Friday with a hearing held Wednesday morning. Claeys had introduced a similar bill into the Appropriations Committee Monday but withdrew it in favor of Brunk’s bill. Brunk has not announced if his panel intended to move forward with his legislation.
The ABC budget was restored on Tuesday.
During the floor debate, opponents questioned whether this would open up to underage drinking and who would handle enforcement of intoxicated persons. Hildabrand said that the hosts of the events could handle it and who would drink at the private events.
Rep. Ron Ryckman Sr. (R-Meade) questioned why the issue was being brought up on the House floor and not run through the committee.
“The problem I see when you bring amendments on the floor of the House and not going through a committee and a hearing on both sides, it can open up a door for consequences that we don’t know,” Ryckman said in the debate.
Brunk said that with the hearing only ending 45 minutes before Hildabrand offering his amendment he had concerns that the larger amendment would open up concerns. He said that he would prefer to stick with his bill that would narrow the BYOB to art stores. Brunk noted concern over strip clubs and bars and said that his committee was awaiting further information from ABC on enforcement issues.
“We left that hearing open in case we needed to have some additional information from ABC,” Brunk said in the debate. “Their concern was bars and strip clubs that are open late at night and they close and then they can stay open and for a fee the alcohol is yours. Then they stay open and there could be a shooting at 3 A.M.”
Supporters noted that the bill would allow for economic growth in the state. Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) said that he has attended classes at Paint the Towne, an art store in Wichita, with his wife, Chelsea, and friends. He said it has been enjoyable.
“We have a business in Wichita and I have had the privilege to go to this business with my wife and some of her friends,” Whipple said on floor. “You bring a bottle of wine and they teach you how to paint a picture. It’s a fun night. They ran this model for a while and then ABC interpreted the law differently and they stopped it. This is a good amendment and I support it.”
Rep. Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) stressed the economic impact for Kansas.
“This is not the scary bill anyone was thinking,” he said. “This is a good economic tool for us.”
Claeys and Rep. Carolyn Bridges (D-Wichita) both decried ABC’s behavior, saying that the art stores have been in compliance with the law as it was explained to them and ABC was making up new rules without legislation.
“It is unfair to have a set of rules and then change the rules,” Bridges said.
Claeys used his floor speech in particular to target ABC. Claeys has emerged as the leading legislative critic of ABC since leading the effort to defund the agency last week over this issue.
“ABC said they were in compliance. Now sting operations are being conducted,” Claeys said in the debate. “Without legislation the rules were changed on them.”
Claeys told The Celock Report that he was working through the committee on the permit bill and noted that Hildabrand had another option to end the standoff.
“Representative Hildebrand opposes the permit process and has a different solution for this issue,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “I don’t oppose his solution, but I’m working through the committee process.”
Claeys said that he had no problem moving forward with another method to allow the art stores and cigar shops to allow the BYOB events. He told The Celock Report that Hildabrand’s amendment “solves the issue for the small businesses in our state acting responsibly and the folks at ABC who need more clarity in the statute.”
Hildabrand said that he wanted to move forward with the amendment in order to provide certainty to the small businesses around the state that host these events. He noted that current standoff was hurting the businesses and could lead to other cities deciding to enforce a ban on the BYOB practice.
“In the meantime, business owners are hanging in a legal limbo,” Hildabrand told The Celock Report. “This bill needs to move forward this year to ensure the security of their business model.”