Battle for beer sales continues at statehouse

(Media General photo)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The “Uncork Kansas” legislation has been around for years, never getting much support from the lawmakers. But recently, a bill allowing full-strength beer for sale at grocery stores and convenience stores passed through a House committee, and is currently being amended into a Senate bill.

Those opposing the bill include family-owned liquor stores who say the move could seriously hurt their business profit. Proponents of the bill say it allows adults the convenience of picking up beer while shopping for groceries, not making another stop.

“Uncork Kansas is something that will take money out of the Kansas economy, it will send it to out-of-state organizations and of course we want to keep as much of that money local as we can,” Mason Hewitt, store manager of Grove’s Liquor said.

Hewitt explains the current legislation is due to a handshake agreement between a retailers association not represented by all retailers and the legislative group that wants to push Uncork Kansas forward. He says, the retailers association has made decisions without the consult of all retailers.

Another worry for Hewitt is that it’s unsafe for the final consumer. Employees at Grove’s Liquor go through extensive training to ensure they ask for identification for anyone who looks younger than 35. Hewitt says, with liquor for sale in grocery stores it’s that much more accessible for minors.

Those for the bill say there are protections in order for people like Hewitt. The bill, HB 2282, allows for up to 20 percent of liquor store sales to come from non-alcoholic products, like ice, mixers and lottery tickets.

“We should allow this law to take effect, see what impact it has on retailers before coming back and finding additional changes like wine, spirits in grocery stores and convenience stores,” lobbyist Whitney Damron said.

Damron works with the Kansas Association for Responsible Liquor Laws, a key player in the Uncork Kansas legislation game.

The bill is different from previous versions, in that it only allows sales of full-strength beer, not wine or spirits.

“You know it’s been very difficult for both sides, it’s been very difficult for legislators too. We are hopeful that the impact on existing retailers is overstated, only time will tell,” Damron said.

Damron estimates the bill could be scheduled for floor debate as early as Thursday.

For the full language of the bill, click here.

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