Kansas Lawmakers Restore Alcohol Agency Budget To End Standoff


By John Celock

A Kansas legislative committee voted to re-fund the state’s alcohol regulation budget Tuesday, ending a weeklong standoff over BYOB policy at art stores.

The House Appropriations Committee voted to restore the $7.2 million over the next two years to the Division of Alcohol Beverage Control after legislation was introduced to clarify rules regarding wine at private parties at the art stores. The standoff started last week when the committee voted to defund ABC over concerns that the liquor agency was not working with lawmakers to resolve questions over whether the art stores could have BYOB wine at private parties.

“We’re satisfied with ABC’s responsiveness at this stage and their desire to work with these small businesses that have been targeted,” Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), who has been leading the BYOB legislative effort, told The Celock Report. “The plan is to pass a bill that will allow for more clarity in the law that ABC wants and allow for these businesses to operate as they have been.”

Legislation has been introduced that would allow for the art stores to obtain a $25 annual permit to have wine served at private parties. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday morning. Claeys withdrew his legislation from the Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning in favor of the similar bill that was offered by Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Brunk (R-Wichita) in that committee.

The weeklong standoff started after Claeys successfully persuaded the Appropriations Committee to defund ABC following the agency backing Wichita officials in saying that the art stores could not allow wine to be served by those hosting a private party.

Claeys said that the legislative budget strategy used in the ABC case was needed to bring help the small businesses impacted.

“We felt we weren’t get an adequate response from ABC and now we feel we’re getting the response we need,” he said.

The debate hinged over interpretation of a 1993 state attorney general’s opinion defining a guest at an event held at a business.

ABC said that the attorney general’s opinion allowed for the Wichita officials to ban the serving of wine without a liquor license at the private events. Claeys said that he and legislative attorneys believed the opinion gave the art stores the ability to have the wine served at the private parties. The 1993 opinion regarded serving alcohol dances being held by a business in Dodge City that were open to the public. The opinion included a definition of guest for a private event at a business that Claeys said allowed for the serving of wine.

“They believe they are in compliance, the legal community believes they are in compliance, the Legislature believes they are in compliance, but if ABC doesn’t believe the statutes allow them to serve wine, we will give it to them,” he said.

Claeys noted that ABC was clarifying the law for Wichita officials. He said that similar stores across the state have not had issues with either ABC or local law enforcement.

“ABC did not have the intention of going after these businesses and it was a local pros and police who went after the businesses,” Claeys said. “ABC offered an interpretation of the statute and the prosecutor in this area choose to act on it.”

In one case, Claeys noted that an art shop in Lawrence across the street from a police station had not been targeted.

The state Department of Revenue, which oversees ABC, has noted that they have been working with Brunk to clarify the law, while noting that the 1993 opinion did not allow the serving of wine. Revenue Department spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda told The Celock Report Tuesday that the agency is pleased with the solution to the standoff.

“We have been working with the chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee since the beginning of the session to develop a proposal to allow art-related businesses’ customers to bring their own alcoholic beverages to an event and are pleased to see both the proposal and our division funding moving forward,” she said.

Claeys said that when he motioned Tuesday to restore the funds to ABC he wanted to thank the other members of the budget-writing panel for defunding ABC in order to address the art shop BYOB issue.

“My motion was a thank you to the committee for allowing us to use this mechanism to bring all the parties together,” Claeys said. “It was effective and served its purpose and we’re ready to work with ABC to get on with the solution they proposed.”