Kansas Senate Votes Down Expanded Sales Of Full-Strength Beer
With tax talks stalled, the Kansas Senate spent more than an hour Thursday debating whether to expand full-strength beer sales beyond liquor stores.
The proposal, part of a long line of attempts to loosen liquor stores’ exclusive right to sell all alcoholic products except 3.2 percent beer, failed 11-26.
Just before the Senate debated the alcohol measure, the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee shot down the latest proposal that could close a $430 million budget deficit and end the session.
With the Legislature on the 89th day of its 90-day session, Sen. Forrest Knox, a Republican from Altoona, said the Senate’s time could have been better spent on things other than the state liquor law.
“It’s a pretty poor time to be doing this,” Knox said.
Thursday’s vote likely settles the issue, at least until next year.
Grocery stores, retail outlets and convenience stores have spent years and thousands of dollars lobbying for expanded liquor sales, while liquor store owners have teamed to dispense thousands of their own dollars to fight against it.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka, said allowing the bigger stores to sell full-strength beer would be the proverbial “camel’s nose in the tent” that would lead to them getting licenses to sell all types of alcohol some day.
The Kansas Health Institute analyzed the possible health effects of such legislation and testified about it earlier in the session.
But Thursday’s floor debate was almost entirely about consumer choice and the economic consequences of expanding full-strength beer sales beyond liquor stores.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce and others who favored the bill said it would be more convenient for consumers.
“It gives our consumers a different choice, a better choice, perhaps, so they can shop where they want to,” Bruce said.
Sen. Julia Lynn, a Republican from Olathe, said border areas like Johnson County suffer from the state’s restrictive liquor laws, losing business to more permissive states.
She said marketplace competition is part of what made the United States a great country.
“What if, at the beginning of this nation, we had put heavy regulations on transportation, the building of railroads?” Lynn said. “Where would we be?"
Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, a Republican from Grinnell, said the economies of rural western Kansas towns are different than the eastern part of the state and provided anecdotes about large chains putting family-owned stores out of business.
Other opponents echoed that argument, saying the full-strength beer proposal would send money to corporate headquarters in other states at the expense of locally owned liquor stores more in touch with their communities.
“That liquor store invests in your kid’s soccer league,” said Sen. Tom Holland, a Democrat from Baldwin City.
Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.