Kansas Beer Compromise Heads To Governor

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By John Celock

Kansas lawmakers have sent the governor a compromise bill that would allow supermarkets to start selling beer starting in 2019.

The state Senate voted 27-11 Friday to approve legislation that would have six percent beer sold in supermarkets as part of a compromise between liquor storeowners and supermarkets. The bill caps several years of debate over the issue, which has been one of the most heavily debated in the state. The state House of Representatives approved the legislation on Thursday.

“This is a compromise between the effective parties,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Julia Lynn (R-Olathe) told the Senate.

The compromise bill came about as 3.2 percent beer, which is currently sold in Kansas supermarkets, is being phased out and momentum had started to develop to allow for beer and wine sales in supermarkets. Under the terms of the legislation, six percent beer would be sold in supermarkets, while liquor stores would be allowed to start selling ice and mixers, along with lottery tickets and tobacco products. Both sides have agreed not to seek any additional changes to state liquor law for 10 years after the 2019 start date and lawmakers will receive a report from state alcohol regulators in 2029 regarding the impact of the change.

Supporters of the legislation argue that the bill would allow for increased product lines for the businesses and head off a full-scale fight in 2019 with the end of 3.2 percent beer. Opponents said that the bill will harm small liquor stores across the state and local governments, with sales tax revenue from beer sales decreasing. Supporters have promised a bill in 2018 that would allow the liquor taxes to be shared with local governments to make up the difference.

“According to the industry there is every indication that if not eliminated, 3.2 beer will be severely reduced by 2019,” Lynn said. “This is a solution to the dilemma as crafted by the stakeholders.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) argued with the process used to adopt the legislation, noting that the Senate cannot offer amendments or hold a committee hearing on the bill. The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee adopted the compromise legislation earlier this week, inserting it into a previously passed Senate bill, while removing the contents of the original bill, a process known as “gut and go.” The House then passed the new bill on Thursday. Since the bill had previously passed the legislation, the Senate could only debate and have an up or down vote on the legislation.

Hensley said that he wanted to see a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue and a full-scale debate with amendments on the Senate floor. He noted that in his 25 years in the Senate, there has only been one floor debate on the beer in supermarkets issue.

“This process does a disservice to us as senators and a disservice to the constituents we represent,” Hensley said. “Particularly those who own or operate retail liquor stores.”

Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) said that in the past, debates on the issue were stopped by former Senate presidents due to disagreements in the GOP caucus about moving forward. She said that when she assumed the presidency in 2013, she told lobbyists for both sides that she wanted to see a compromise bill before she moved to a floor debate.

Wagle said that while she would have wanted to see a full-scale hearing and debate, this is a compromise measure negotiated by both sides.

“It is rare that we can make everyone happy,” Wagle said. “I am sorry we could not have a hearing on this but this is the card we have been dealt.”

Hensley argued that the bill would harm small liquor stores around the state. He said the small stores have been helpful to residents and help the local economies.

“We are going to rue the day that we agree to this,” Hensley said. “I believe that we will put a lot of retail liquor stores out of business.”

Sen. Randall Hardy (R-Salina) said that the bill was beneficial to consumers and liquor stores. He noted the frustration he’s felt in the past when he could not buy mixers and limes in liquor stores and when he has had to walk outside with the storeowner in an attempt to purchase ice. He said that the trips to multiple stores in order to host a cocktail party have not helped the consumer experience for him or others.

Hardy also said that the new product lines will benefit the storeowners. His words echoed Rep. Jan Kessinger (R-Leawood) and Rep. Tom Cox (R-Shawnee) during Thursday’s House debate, who noted that business owners can use the new law to develop new product lines.

“This bill turns liquor stores free. They can operate in new ways. They can sell craft beers. This is exciting,” Hardy said. “This is good for consumers. They can do all their shopping in one store. This bill is good for the liquor store owners and it is good for the consumers.”


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