Politics & Government

Kansas Senate rejects stronger beer sales at grocery, convenience stores

Kansas state senators have rejected a watered-down version of a plan to expand alcohol sales by grocery, big-box and convenience stores.
Kansas state senators have rejected a watered-down version of a plan to expand alcohol sales by grocery, big-box and convenience stores. File photo

TOPEKA — State senators rejected a watered-down version of a plan to expand alcohol sales by grocery, big-box and convenience stores Thursday.

Voting 26-11, senators turned down a floor amendment that would have allowed the chain stores to sell full-strength beer. Under current law, they can sell only beer and coolers with a maximum alcohol content of 3.2 percent.

Uncork Kansas, a coalition including Dillons, Hy-Vee and other chains, has pushed hard to bring a bill to the floor to allow their stores to sell hard liquor and wine as well as beer.

They’ve been opposed by associations representing independent liquor retailers, the only ones now allowed to sell full-strength packaged alcohol.

Jessica Lucas, a spokeswoman for Uncork Kansas, said the Senate defeat isn’t the end of the effort and the group will continue to press for expanded sales of full-strength alcoholic beverages.

The amendment considered Thursday was Uncork light, dealing only with beer. It would have left liquor stores with a corner on the market for wine and spirits.

Proponents of changing the law said it’s ridiculous that shoppers have to go to more than one store to stock up for a dinner party.

“You know what my constituents think?” said Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe. “They would love to see the ability to go buy their groceries and plan for their party or whatever they’re doing and not have to drive across the street or down the block or wherever to do the second half of their shopping, for really no good reason.”

Sen. Jacob La Turner, R-Pittsburg, said he asks his constituents about the issue every chance he gets.

“The vast majority think that it’s goofy that Kansas government comes in and says you can sell 3.2 beer here, 5.0 beer up here, and they want to see that changed,” he said.

Opponents contended the amendment would let big retail crush hundreds of mom-and-pop liquor stores around the state.

“We talk about we want to create jobs in this state,” said Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita. “How many extra jobs would be created by allowing Wal-Mart, Dillons and these other … big-box stores to sell this product? The answer is, if any, very few.

“How many jobs would be lost by small family owned businesses? … The answer is many. That alone should be enough to tell us we don’t want to go here.”

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said the amendment would harm families who put their life’s savings and life’s work into their independent liquor stores.

He said he saw no good reason “to shift to these big-box stores that are (headquartered) out of state. And at the end of the day, that’s where the money will go.”

Lucas said consumers won’t be happy with the Senate action.

“It’s something our customers ask for every day,” she said. “We sell a beer product people do not want to purchase and that has shrinking market share. Consumers do not want 3.2 beer today.”

“They will be expressing that to elected officials,” she said. “We will reach the day, very soon I believe, that this consumer-friendly legislation will pass.”

The other side was on the web shortly after the vote with a list of senators who voted against Uncork’s bill.

In a Facebook post, the group Keep Kansans in Business urged its supporters to “please take time to thank them for their support.”

The Senate is not expected to take up any more alcohol bills this session, so another run at an Uncork proposal seems unlikely there.

The House version of the Uncork bill, House Bill 2200, has passed out of committee but has so far been in limbo awaiting a floor vote.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas senators voted on an amendment to allow full-strength beer to be sold in grocery stores. The amendment failed, 26-11.

Republicans voting yes: Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson; Richard Wilborn, McPherson

Republicans voting no: Les Donovan, Mike Petersen and Susan Wagle, Wichita; Steve Abrams, Arkansas City; Dan Kerschen, Garden Plain; Forrest Knox, Altoona; Ty Masterson, Andover; Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick

Democrats voting no: Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Wichita

Not voting: Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita

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