TOPEKA — Senators approved a bill Friday that would make changes to Kansas liquor laws, including granting authority to legislative leaders to allow alcohol at approved Statehouse functions.
The measure – a collection of several liquor bills – grants the Legislative Coordinating Council the authority to allow liquor to be served in the building. The intent is to allow drinks to be served during an event to mark completion of more than 10 years of renovations to the building.
The 29-10 vote sent the measure to the House, which was to consider it later Friday. The bulk of the bill dealt with regulations for wine and liquor tasting events that were approved in 2012, as well as rules for homebrew competitions.
Critics of liquor in the Statehouse argue that the language could be construed to allow drinking at any approved Statehouse function, perhaps even the legislative session.
But Sen. Julia Lynn said the $332 million Statehouse renovation project had transformed the building into a showcase worth celebrating. She also suggested that the building should be allowed for use for weddings or other receptions that would be regulated for alcohol consumption.
“We’re not opening the Statehouse so we can stash a flask in our drawers,” said Lynn, an Olathe Republican.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, serves with other top House and Senate leaders on the Legislative Coordinating Council, which sets policies governing the Statehouse. She said it is anticipated that when renovations are complete that the building will attract more than 100,000 visitors annually.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, Topeka Democrat, suggested Friday the bill be sent back for more negotiation, noting that in 1999, legislators explicitly stated in law that liquor could be served from Dec. 31, 1999 to Jan. 1, 2000, to mark the turn of the century.
Concerns were also raised because the Statehouse language had not been approved by either the House or Senate before it was lumped into a conference committee report with other liquor issues.
Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, called it a “slippery slope” for legislators to include bills that have not been vetted fully by committees or not had an up-or-down vote in either chamber.