TOPEKA – In an effort to jump-start a stalled proposal to expand alcoholic beverage sales in grocery, big-box and convenience stores, a House committee on Tuesday narrowly approved a bill to let counties vote on it.
The county option is the latest twist in a years-long effort by grocery, superstore and convenience chains to bring full-strength alcoholic beverages to their shelves.
Only highly regulated independent liquor stores can sell full-strength beer, wine and spirits now.
Grocery, big-box and convenience stores are limited to selling beer and coolers with a maximum alcohol content of 3.2 percent.
The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development committee voted 9-8 to change those rules.
It followed an 8-7 vote Monday to substitute the county-by-county vote option for the original version of the so-called “Uncork Kansas” bill. The original bill would have applied statewide with no local input.
Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, supported the bill in the committee and said he expects a close vote on the House floor next week.
Schwab said he likes the county option because although voters in his area might want to be able to buy alcohol when they get their groceries, he recognizes there are parts of the state where grocery stores are few and far between.
In those areas, county residents could opt to keep sales of full-strength booze limited to their local liquor store, he said.
Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita and an opponent of the Uncork bill on the committee, said the county option would make the system for regulating alcohol too unwieldy.
“It takes what was a dysfunctional bill and makes it more dysfunctional,” he said.
The retooled Uncork bill would allow an election to be called by a majority vote of a county commission or by a petition with signatures equal to 10 percent of the county’s voters who cast ballots in the last election for secretary of state.
If voters approved such a proposal, a grocery store or a big-box store that sells groceries would be able to buy a liquor license from a retailer in the same county and begin selling full-strength beer, wine and spirits.
Convenience stores would be allowed to apply for a different license to sell full-strength beer.
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.