Stronger beer could be sold in Kansas grocery and convenience stores in two years if the governor signs a bill approved by the Legislature.
The Kansas Senate approved the bill 27-11 after less than an hour of debate Friday morning. The House approved it 85-40 on Thursday.
The bill would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with an alcohol content of up to 6 percent by volume starting in April 2019. Liquor stores would be allowed to sell products other than alcohol — such as ice, mixers and shot glasses— up to 20 percent of their sales.
The change would not allow the sale of wine in grocery and convenience stores, something Uncork Kansas proponents have pushed for nearly every year in the Legislature.
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Supporters say the changes would give customers more choices. Opponents say strong beer should remain in a more controlled environment and that family-owned liquor stores could go out of business if they have to compete with larger chain stores.
A proposal to allow sales of stronger beer in grocery and convenience stores finally gained traction this year, in part because the number of states where the weaker 3.2 beer is sold is dwindling. Oklahoma and Colorado soon will allow the sale of full-strength beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores.
Some Uncork proponents have said those changes will cause brewers to back away from production of 3.2 beer.
Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, said the plan would provide a two-year transition “so businesses can prepare for the eventuality that 3.2 beer will not be available in sufficient quantities.” The state’s Alcohol Beverage Control would do a market impact study in 2029 on the effects of the changes.
“This is a pre-emptive bill to protect both the grocery industry and the liquor store industry,” Lynn said. “SB 13 is the solution to the dilemma as crafted by the stakeholders.”
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, emphasized that the amended bill was a compromise between big box stores and some liquor stores.
“It is a compromise,” Wagle said. “It’s very rare that we can make everyone happy.”
Other senators cited time as a factor in why the Legislature needed to approve the plan.
“This is something, I feel, that needs to be addressed now,” said Sen. Gene Suellentop, R-Wichita.
Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, said he voted for the bill because liquor store owners in his district expressed support for the compromise.
“I’m glad these small businesses were part of the process,” Rogers said.
But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, criticized the expedited passage of the bill.
“We have no opportunity, as senators, to offer amendments and I think that’s unfortunate that we’ve been put into this position,” he said.
He said the bill would put family-owned liquor stores at a disadvantage to large corporations, citing a person he has known since high school who owns a liquor store across from a Wal-Mart.
“The mom and pop shops are really kind of the last bastion of those kinds of businesses,” Hensley said. “I believe we are going to put a lot of retail liquor people out of business.”
How they voted
Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on the bill to allow the sale of 6 percent beer in grocery and convenience stores in two years. An amended House substitute version for SB 13 passed 27-11 in the Senate and 85-40 in the House.
All area senators voted yes except for Larry Alley, R-Winfield, who voted no, and Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who was absent.
Democrats voting yes: Elizabeth Bishop, Gail Finney, KC Ohaebosim, Tom Sawyer, Jim Ward, Brandon Whipple, Wichita; Patsy Terrell, Hutchinson; Ed Trimmer, Winfield.
Republicans voting yes: Leo Delperdang, Roger Elliott, Daniel Hawkins, Susan Humphries, Greg Lakin, Brenda Landwehr, Les Osterman, John Whitmer, Wichita; Steven Becker, Buhler; Blake Carpenter, Derby; Mary Martha Good, El Dorado; Steve Huebert, Valley Center; Les Mason, McPherson; Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie; Kristey Williams, Augusta.
Democrats voting no: John Carmichael, Henry Helgerson, Ponka-We Victors, Wichita; Steven Crum, Haysville; Tim Hodge, North Newton.
Republicans voting no: Chuck Weber, Wichita; Doug Blex, Independence; Pete DeGraaf, Mulvane; Kyle Hoffman, Coldwater; Anita Judd-Jenkins, Arkansas City; Don Schroeder, Hesston; Jack Thimesch, Cunningham.