Politics & Government

Big booze bill headed to Brownback

A wide-ranging set of bills that relax alcohol regulations in Kansas is headed to Gov. Sam Brownback, but it doesn’t include a controversial move to allow grocery stores to sell stronger beer and alcohol.

The changes would allow bars to offer happy hour specials, allow micro-distilleries of liquor to sell and serve their products similar to microbreweries and let liquor stores give consumer samples of beer, wine and booze.

The House approved the package of bills Friday in a 97-24 vote.

Currently, bars can only offer special drink prices if they charge the same rate all day.

During the legislative session, some lawmakers voiced concern that happy hours encourage binge drinking to take advantage of short-term price reductions. But others argued they help make Kansas competitive with neighboring states, such as Missouri, that allow temporary specials and give bars more freedom over their business models.

The bill package also allows liquor stores to offer free tastings to consumers (a half-ounce of spirits or two ounces of beer or wine). There’s no limit on the number of samples a store can provide.

Wichita got one of its initiatives approved in the package of bills. The city had sought an extended-length special event permit so that organizers of the Wichita River Festival wouldn’t have to keep getting license extensions for the festival’s beer garden.

Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, voiced concerns that the extended permit would open the door to boozy county fairs. But the extended permits don’t change any regulations or other parts of the permitting process, making it unlikely to lead to a big uptick in alcohol at fairs, said Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire.

Part of the bill would allow micro-distilleries to manufacture alcohol products, provide samples to consumers and sell their products on site. That’s similar to laws that allow microbreweries to serve samples and sell bottles of beer.

Another bill tucked into the package opens the door for farm wineries where people could grow grapes, produce wine and sell it on site or take it to other locations, such as a wine festival, and offer people sampling wines to buy bottles on site.

Brunk, who carried the bill, said the proposals are aimed at providing more consistent laws that reflect consumers’ behavior.

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