A liquor-by-the-drink question will be included on the Nov. 3 general election ballot following action Wednesday night by the Douglas County Commission.
Only one person a proponent spoke during a public hearing on the issue. After closing the hearing, all three commissioners said they favored a public vote and unanimously approved putting the issue on the ballot.
The ballot question will ask voters if they want to end the current practice of requiring establishments that sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises to also earn at least 30 percent of their gross sales in food.
Establishments that don't meet the 30 percent requirement now must operate under the rules of a private club.
During Wednesday night's public hearing, the only speaker was Reed Brinton, a partner in Benchwarmers Sports Bar & Grill, 1601 W. 23rd, who asked that the issue be placed on the ballot.
BRINTON said the 30 percent requirement was a problem for bar owners, who might not be able to meet the food sales threshold if they have many customers after a Kansas University football or basketball game.
Commissioner Mike Amyx said he had no problem putting the matter on the ballot for a public vote.
"It's not particularly what . . . our personal feelings are in the matter, it's a decision on whether or not the public will decide the issue," Amyx said. "The situation is going to be one of personal choice by everybody who plans to vote in the November election."
Commissioner Louie McElhaney said he supported putting it on the ballot, partly because it will cost the county about $100 or less.
"And this gives the people in Douglas County the opportunity to decide on the process," he said. "It's not always that we get the opportunity to make those decisions. So whenever we do have the opportunity to come forth, I like to exercise that."
McELHANEY said if voters approve the issue, it will help some of the businesses that have problems making the 30 percent food threshold.
"I strongly feel that there are some laws that are being broken in some of the businesses now because they are not always checked for a card," he said. "There's just so many things that can go wrong, I feel like this is the best way to handle it."
In agreeing to support putting the measure on the ballot, Commissioner Mark Buhler said the $100 cost was insignificant.
"I also think it is a good will gesture if it were to be passed," Buhler said. "I do think that Lawrence and Douglas County enjoy a tremendous reputation. . . . It's tough enough to look good, let alone appear to be inflexible in how people choose to enjoy the community and entertain themselves."
IN 1986, the Kansas Legislature approved putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot that allowed individual counties to decide if they wanted to allow liquor by the drink, with the 30 percent requirement.
Douglas County is among 39 of the state's 105 counties that now allow some form of liquor by the drink.
Four of the 39 "wet" counties Sedgwick, Geary, Ellis and Wyandotte have removed the 30 percent food provision from their laws, Bernie Norwood, legal assistant for the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control division, said today.
Norwood said Shawnee County also is considering removing its 30 percent food requirement this year, as are some other counties. Most of the state's "dry" counties operate only with private clubs, he said.
Smith County, which is now "dry," is considering its first proposal to allow liquor by the drink, with the 30 percent food requirement, Norwood said.
"Probably in every general election, several counties attempt to get it on," he said.
There is a provision in the state constitution that allows counties to revert to "dry" status, or to the 30 percent requirement, but no county has used that option since 1986, he said.