Topeka Lawrence Mayor Shirley Martin-Smith testified Thursday that violent episodes outside Lawrence nightclubs prompted her to support a bill that would make bar owners responsible for criminal acts outside their drinking establishments.
Martin-Smith and Sen. Wint Winter, R-Lawrence, told the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee the state should have the power to revoke or suspend licenses held by bar owners who turn their backs on crime that occurs near their businesses.
Winter's bill would allow the Alcoholic Beverage Control director to take action if a link was found between operation of a bar and repeated incidents within 1,000 feet of its premises, which constitute a danger to public safety, health and welfare.
In addition, Martin-Smith said the legislation would clarify that law enforcement officials have 24-hour access to licensed clubs. It also would allow local government officials to participate in state license-renewal hearings.
CHAIRMAN Ed Reilly, R-Leavenworth, said hearings on the bill would resume Tuesday with testimony by the ABC director, who has endorsed the measure. A vote on the bill wasn't scheduled, because it may be amended by the committee.
Owners of two Lawrence establishments that serve alcohol, Chuck Magerl of the Free State Brewing Co. and Ken Wallace of the Jayhawk Cafe, testified against the bill. The proposed law would threaten their livelihood, they said.
"Most private clubs and drinking establishments are operated in a manner that is neither a threat to public safety nor a problem for state or local law enforcement officials," Martin-Smith said.
"However, a few clubs and bars do operate which attract or foster illegal conduct and activity, harm the surrounding neighborhood, endanger the public safety and create a burden on local law enforcement officers," she said.
IN 1990, the Lawrence police reported 145 incidents in or near bars, Martin-Smith said. She said 44 were related to one private club. Incidents included aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and illegal discharge of a firearm.
Winter said the law needed to be changed because the operators of a bar in his neighborhood took advantage of the fact that ABC officials have no jurisdiction over the "gross, wanton" criminal activity that occurred regularly outside the bar.
He passed out a petition signed by 28 Lawrence residents who support the bill. A shooting last year outside a nightclub at Ninth and Mississippi streets increased interest among residents in greater regulation of bars, he said.
MAGERL, owner of the Free State Brewing Co. in downtown Lawrence, said he opposed the legislation. In Free State's two years of operation, police have been called to the business twice. Both occasions involved people who arrived at the brewery in "abusive moods," he said.
"I know that some of the actions cited in this bill do occur within 1,000 feet of my business," he said. "Am I to empower vigilante squads to enforce my laws in order to save my legal and otherwise peaceable business?"
Magerl said the bill also has the potential to provide a vengeful former employee or fanatical special interest group with the means to close his business by promoting unsafe actions on the sidewalk in front of the brewery.
Wallace of Jayhawk Cafe, a private club near the Kansas University campus, said the law could make him responsible for violence at two other bars, student apartments, fraternities, sororities and residence halls within 1,000 feet of his business.