Lawmakers Pass Omnibus Kansas Alcohol Bill


By John Celock

An omnibus alcohol bill, that includes a provision to allow BYOB wine at private parties at businesses, is headed to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R).

The state House of Representatives voted 90-30 Friday afternoon to pass the bill, ending a months long saga that briefly saw lawmakers defund the state’s chief alcohol regulator over the BYOB provision. The bill contained multiple provisions, including allowing alcohol in the state Capitol, the result of lawmakers taking advantage of a rare alcohol bill to push favored issues.

“We’ve been working on these issues for quite some time,” Rep. Gene Suellentrop (R-Wichita) said. “There are issues critical to the industry.”

Among the provisions in the bill is to allow the sampling of alcohol when distributors sell to retailers, allowing wine sales at farmers markets, vineyard sales of wine, allowing alcohol to be served at catered events in public spaces, a ban on powdered alcohol, allowing fruit infused with alcohol to be sold in bars, allowing microbreweries near churches, allowing self service wine dispensers and allowing the Division of Alcohol Beverage Control to revoke liquor licenses to those holding them in place of someone who has been banned from having one.

The bill almost came undone at the last minute when Rep. Joe Scapa (R-Wichita) motioned to send it back to a conference committee saying that he had “heartburn” with several of issues in the bill. Scapa identified allowing alcohol in the Capitol for official state events and streamlining the permit process to serve alcohol at multiple issues at the state fair.

Scapa said that he felt the state fair was meant to be “family friendly” while he said he was concerned about the message that could be sent by alcohol in the state Capitol. Scapa said that he wanted to see measures relating to the industry pass.

“That doesn’t send a good message to the public, it’s a bad idea,” Scapa said of alcohol in the Capitol.

The alcohol in the Capitol provision was added by the state Senate. Under the plan, events with alcohol would need to be sanctioned by the state Legislative Coordinating Council and be nonpartisan in nature. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Julia Lynn (R-Olathe) told her colleagues though that she would like to see it lead to the possibility of the state renting out the Capitol for private parties.

During the Senate debate, Sen. Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka) objected to the alcohol in the Capitol provision, noting that the language would allow the LCC wide latitude over which events would be approved, since the amendment did not define “official state events.” Schmidt also raised concerns about the potential of red wine spilling on to carpets and upholstered furniture in the Capitol.

“This leaves it very wide open,” Schmidt said during the Senate debate. “I guess the LCC depending on their mood or the LCC at the time can pick and choose what events can have alcohol at the Capitol.”

House Democratic Agenda Chairman Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) said that while he disagreed with the alcohol in the Capitol, he did not see a reason to kill the omnibus bill by sending it back to a conference committee, where it might die due to the lateness of the legislative session. He defended the BYOB provisions, saying it will allow for small business development, noting that several businesses have built business models to allow BYOB wine during painting classes. The BYOB provision covers a variety of businesses including cigar shops and bed and breakfasts as well.

“We can come back next year and strike out parts of this bill we don’t like, but let’s not strike out jobs and small businesses in our community,” Whipple told the House.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf (R-Mulvane) spoke in favor of Scapa’s motion saying that he felt the bill had “far too many moving parts.”

Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) questioned why Scapa did not raise any of his objections during the conference committee process to take out the provisions he did not like. He said that Scapa could have approved the committee – which held eight hours of deliberations in recent weeks.

Schwab also said the alcohol in the Capitol provision would address the need to avoid passing legislation for every event where alcohol could be served, noting that lawmakers had to do that in 2000 to host a millennium celebration in the Capitol.

“If there is a certain event we want to celebrate an event we should not have to pass a law,” Schwab said. “I trust that LCC will not put a tap machine on the first floor.”

The BYOB provision came about after Wichita police said that an art store in the city could not host the BYOB events without a liquor license. ABC started working on a bill with House Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Brunk (R-Wichita) in January to address the issue, with the bill being introduced in March, after ABC was defunded. The defunding by ABC was done by the House Appropriations Committee after objections were made to ABC insisting on the liquor license, which Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) said at the time was not the case.

In March, an ABC spokeswoman told The Celock Report that a 1993 state attorney general’s opinion required the license, with Claeys arguing the opinion did not say a license was needed. The 1993 opinion dealt with a private business holding public dances in Dodge City.

Similar art stores in other cities had not seen enforcement, including one in Lawrence that sits across from a police station.

Funding for ABC was restored by the Appropriations Committee after Brunk’s bill, which would have required special permits for BYOB businesses was introduced in March. The Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on Brunk’s bill on March 18 with Brunk holding the hearing open saying more time needed to be put into obtaining information on the issue. Less than an hour after the hearing, the House adopted an amendment proposed by Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee) that would allow for the BYOB events at a variety of public businesses without a permit. Brunk objected to the Hildabrand bill at the time.

The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee took the BYOB provision out but the full Senate restored the provision. A conference committee kept the BYOB provision in the bill.

Claeys cheered passage of the omnibus bill Friday afternoon, saying that it would help small businesses in the state.

“This is a huge victory for Kansas small businesses and common sense,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “We defeated an overzealous prosecutor backed by an agency that rewrote the law.”

ABC has insisted that they did not rewrite the law, arguing the 1993 state attorney general’s opinion allowed for the enforcement.

Whipple noted that he wanted to protect small businesses from going under. During the March debate on the bill, he noted that he had gone to a paint and wine store with his wife and her friends and found the experience “fun.”

“It’s important that we support our small businesses whose business model was in jeopardy due to a revised interpretation of current law,” Whipple told The Celock Report. “A provision in this bill will clear up any confusion and allow these small business to continue to operate and add to our economy.”

Claeys vowed that he and other lawmakers will continue to keep an eye on state alcohol regulators.

“We will continue to monitor the aggressive actions of ABC that cross the line, treating law abiding small business owners as criminals,” he said.