By John Celock
A seemingly routine procedural debate in the Kansas House Tuesday turned chaotic as a proponent of a bill to allow BYOB wine at private events at businesses aimed to keep the bill from derailing.
Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee) used the debate on sending an omnibus alcohol bill into a conference committee to renew a push to keep the BYOB legislation in the larger bill. Hildabrand pushed for an immediate vote on the motion, leading to a moment of procedural confusion, in an effort to prevent what he sees as an obstructionist committee chairman standing in the bill’s way. The legislation, proposed to correct an issue facing a paint and wine store in Wichita, has been on a roller coaster ride since March, including leading to a temporary defunding of the state’s alcohol regulation agency. While the legislation started due to a paint and wine store the provision would impact a range of businesses that host private BYOB events including cigar and clothing stores.
“This has been repeatedly obstructed by certain members on the conference committee,” Hildabrand said in the debate.
Hildabrand was referring to House Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Brunk (R-Wichita) as the member of the conference committee standing in the bill’s way. Brunk had delayed introduction of a version of the BYOB legislation for several months and had not indicated after a March hearing if his committee would vote on the bill.
Hildabrand proposed the BYOB measure as a floor amendment to an alcohol bill relating to alcohol at catered events on public property in March. Under the BYOB measure, stores would be able to host private parties with alcohol provided by the person paying for the party. Current Kansas law does not allow for these BYOB events – potentially forcing the stores to purchase alcohol licenses – but does allow for alcohol to be served at private parties at a person’s home or at art stores during public art walks. The bill was prompted after Wichita Police told art stores in that city that they could not host BYOB parties with out liquor licenses.
The BYOB provision is one of several in the final omnibus bill. Among the other measures placed into the bill by the House and Senate are provisions relating to alcohol sales at the state fair, allowing vineyards to provide samples and sales of wine, the use of wine dispensing machines, allowing microbreweries near churches and the serving of alcohol during official state events at the state Capitol.
Hildabrand had attempted to force an immediate House vote on the package, which Brunk wanted to place into a conference committee. He said lawmakers were not told in advance of the Brunk conference committee motion and he was looking to protect the BYOB provision. The conference committee – consisting of three House members and three senators – would be able to craft the final version of the bill, including taking out the BYOB provision. The final House and Senate votes on the conference committee report would not allow for amendments.
“No advance warning motion was occurring today, & I wanted to ensure we protected lawful BYOB businesses,” Hildabrand tweeted.
Hildabrand withdrew his motion after Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) informed the House that if Hildabrand’s motion failed the entire omnibus package would be dead. Schwab noted that while the bills could be resurrected, given the limited time left in the current legislative session, it would be unlikely for passage this year due to procedural practices used by lawmakers. Schwab did not, however, that Hildabrand could attempt to force a floor vote once the omnibus bill was in the conference committee without potentially killing the entire bill.
Brunk argued against Hildabrand’s motion saying that the bill had many provisions not just BYOB. He did not answer Hildabrand’s floor accusation that he was attempting to block the BYOB bill.
“There are numerous personal interest bills that were combined into 2331, not just one person’s personal interest bill,” he said.
Hildabrand said he wanted to the entire bill to be adopted.
With alcohol related bills rarely advancing past Kansas legislative committees, lawmakers have been using the bill containing the BYOB provision and another bill as vehicles to get their bills to Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) desk. Brunk has long been known for blocking alcohol bills in his committee.
The BYOB provision has been on a roller coaster ride since March when the House Appropriations Committee voted to defund the Division of Alcohol Beverage Control for the next two years over the enforcement of the BYOB ban. Proponents of the BYOB measure, including Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), noted that art stores in other cities, including one in Lawrence across from a police station, have similar events and have not been targeted.
In March, an ABC spokeswoman told The Celock Report that a 1993 state attorney general’s opinion backed up Wichita Police in saying the art stores needed a liquor license. Claeys argued that the opinion said the license was not needed. The 1993 opinion dealt with the serving of alcohol at a public dance in Dodge City.
In March, the ABC spokeswoman said that the agency was working with Brunk to craft legislation dealing with the ABC issue but no bill had been introduced yet. Brunk introduced his bill in March following the defunding of ABC as part of a compromise to restore funding to the alcohol regulator. Claeys has introduced a similar bill at the same time as Brunk but withdrew it after Brunk introduced his measure. The House Appropriations Committee restored funding to ABC as part of the compromise to introduce the bill.
Brunk’s bill – which would have created a new permit for the art stores – had a hearing March 18 in the Federal and State Affairs Committee but the hearing was left open for more information. Brunk had not indicated at the time if the bill would move forward. Forty-five minutes after the hearing, during floor debate on the catered events bill, Hildabrand proposed his amendment that would allow the BYOB at art and other stores to proceed without the permit. The House passed the amendment over Brunk’s objections.
Brunk had said in March that he wanted more information from ABC on the regulation of the issue, noting concerns about potential shootings at bars and strip clubs in the middle of the night. He indicated that he wanted to stick with his more narrow bill relating to art stores.
“We left that hearing open in case we needed to have some additional information from ABC,” Brunk said in March. “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.”
Hildabrand’s amendment had attracted bipartisan support in March, which he noted during Tuesday’s debate. In March, Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) noted that he and his wife have attended painting events with wine at Paint the Towne in Wichita and told his colleagues that it was “a fun night.” Other lawmakers noted that the bill would expand the state’s economy.
On Tuesday, Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) noted that the BYOB is one of the provisions in the overall legislation and said that House members have not had a chance to vet, which could happen in the conference committee. The vineyard, wine dispensing machines and alcohol in the Capitol were among the provisions added by the Senate. A Senate committee originally had taken the BYOB provision out of the bill but it was restored by the full Senate.
The alcohol conference committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to debate the omnibus bill and another alcohol related bill. Hildabrand did say on the House floor that he wanted to make sure Brunk protected the BYOB provision during conference negotiations since the full House had voted for the measure.
“I do hope the chairman protects the House position in committee,” Hildabrand said.