Politics & Government

House panel passes bill to allow stronger beer in grocery stores

A plan that passed a committee in the Kansas House on Tuesday would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with an alcoholic content of 6 percent by volume.
A plan that passed a committee in the Kansas House on Tuesday would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with an alcoholic content of 6 percent by volume. File photo

TOPEKA — Lawmakers advanced a bill that would allow stores like Dillons and QuikTrip to sell a stronger type of beer to customers starting in 2019.

The plan that passed a committee in the Kansas House is a compromise forged by big box stores and some liquor stores in response to alcohol law changes in neighboring Colorado and Oklahoma.

The two sides have often bitterly opposed each other in nearly annual battles at the Legislature over legislation proposed by Uncork Kansas to allow strong beer and wine on grocery and convenience store shelves.

The plan would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with an alcoholic content of 6 percent by volume, said Rep. Erin Davis, R-Olathe. Those stores can currently only sell beer with an alcoholic content of 3.2 percent by weight.

Liquor stores could sell up to 20 percent of their gross sales on other products like mixers and ice. Tobacco and lottery sales would not be a part of that limitation.

It would go into effect April 1, 2019. Alcoholic Beverage Control would complete a report for the Legislature in 2029 on the impact of the change.

The plan would not include wine, as Uncork Kansas bills have proposed in the past. And Uncork Kansas advocates would agree to stop pushing for major changes in alcohol regulations while they wait for the 2029 assessment.

“This is a very delicate compromise that was reached by all of the parties involved,” Davis said. “This is a long sought-after compromise by many of us who have been on both sides of the issue.”

Amy Campbell, executive director of the Kansas Association of Beverage Retailers, said her group of independent liquor stores was “cautiously supportive” of the bill. She worried other changes to the bill could upset the balance of the compromise.

“We are affecting the lives of many small business owners in the state,” Campbell said after the meeting.

Campbell said her group wants Uncork Kansas proponents to commit to a 10-year period for the law to remain untouched.

“We would also love to hear legislators on the record say … that this puts this issue to rest for a period of time,” Campbell said.

Lawmakers and advocates agreed that there is no binding, written agreement and that future legislatures and advocacy groups could pursue whatever changes they want.

Campbell said this was the best opportunity for a Kansas solution to the “3.2 issue,” referring to uncertainty about the future of 3.2 percent beer.

Some in the industry fear beer distributors will soon limit production of 3.2 percent beer because Oklahoma and Colorado will begin allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell stronger beer on their shelves.

Kansas Beer Wholesalers Association executive director Jason Watkins said brewers like Shiner Bock have already told Kansas distributors “that they are ending their 3.2 version.”

“Both Miller-Coors and Anheuser-Busch have sent letters to Kansas distributors within the last four to six weeks saying that market changes are coming regarding 3.2,” he said.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, voted against the amended bill, arguing it would likely put hundreds of small, family-owned liquor stores out of business.

“In your community, you’re going to drive by and you’re going see the closed sign or the foreclosure sign,” Carmichael told other lawmakers while pushing his own amendment, which failed. “And you can answer to your constituents for why you didn’t at least try to save their business.”

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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