Kansas House Committee introduces new bill to sell liquor in grocery stores

A surprise move in a House Committee Thursday on a bill that would allow the sale of full strength beer, wine and liquor in grocery stores.

The Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development informed the audience of a completely re-worked bill, saying the bill as introduced to the committee did not fairly reflect both sides of the bill that could allow the sale of beer, wine and spirits in grocery stores.

“The current version of 2556 is probably no where near what we need to happen to be seriously considered,” said State Representative Martin Kleeb to the Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development.

In the second hearing in a little over two weeks on the bill that would allow grocery stores to sell full strength beer, wine and liquor, the committee offered up a different idea.

“This is an opportunity for legislators to discuss what’s been presented after hearing all the testimony,” said Jessica Lucas, with Uncork Kansas.

The proposed bill would allow existing liquor licenses to be classified as Class “A” starting in July of this year.
This means in July 2016 they could sell Tobacco and Groceries, as long as it does not take up more than 15% of the stores’ space.

“The way it is set up right now is what we’re okay with. Beer generally is the biggest seller for liquor stores, so that’s what gives them the money to buy the specialty wines, whiskey, and scotches,” said Aaron Rosenow, owner of Vern’s Retail Liquor.

Starting in 2016, grocery stores in rural areas may purchase a Class “A” license if there are no other Class “A” licenses within 10 miles.
And in 2019, someone who operates a single grocery location may buy a Class “A” license as long as there are no other Class “A” licenses within a half a mile of the store.

“Small grocery stores, particularly in rural areas of Kansas want this bill to pass because it will help their viability,” said Lucas.

But opponents disagree.

“Well if I wanted a choice of 5 wines, I think it would be a great idea to do that, but if I want the service and selection that I currently get when I walk into a liquor store, you’re not going to get that any where else,” said Rosenow.

A lobbyist for liquor retailers across Kansas says he believes the bill that was introduced Thursday is an honest attempt at a compromise, but they still are not ready to sign off on anything.

The House Committee will post the final re-drafted version of the bill next week. The committee will hear more testimony on the revised bill next week. The testimony will apply to the re-worked bill only.

Statement from Uncork Kansas: “The House Commerce committee listened to neutral testimony Thursday, March 6, 2014, on HB 2556 and then discussed changes to the bill Uncork Kansas proposed February 19. A draft summary of suggestions was presented at the meeting, but a revised bill won’t be available for review until next week.

“Uncork Kansas appreciates the House Commerce committee’s efforts to keep legislation moving forward,” said Jessica Lucas, Uncork Kansas representative. “We anticipate continued dialogue on proposed changes to HB 2556. Our coalition is committed to achieving free market legislation that allows Kansans to choose where they buy beer, wine, and spirits.

Updates about legislation will continue to be provided to Kansans through the Uncork Kansas website.”

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