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Archive for Thursday, January 1, 2004

Cities take another jab at state liquor law

Leavenworth, Edwardsville ordinances will allow sale of strong beer in groceries

January 1, 2004

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If Sunday liquor sales was round one, the bell has sounded for the beginning of round two.

Officials In Leavenworth and in Edwardsville have approved ordinances to permit grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer -- a beverage long decreed by Kansas law to be the province of liquor stores.

The Leavenworth City Commission adopted its ordinance Tuesday, while the Edwardsville City Council adopted a similar measure about a week earlier.

The new moves against state liquor laws come after a yearlong struggle in Lawrence and other northeast Kansas cities to allow retail liquor stores to open on Sunday.

Edwardsville also was a pioneer in that fight, along with Kansas City, Kan., when the cities approved charter ordinances to exempt themselves from the provision in the state's Liquor Control Act that bans Sunday sales. A Wyandotte County district judge upheld those moves, ruling that state liquor laws were not uniform and cities and counties thus could exempt themselves from certain provisions under Kansas' home-rule laws. The state has appealed the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court.

But now, officials in Leavenworth and Edwardsville are relying on the same district court ruling to permit wide sales of stronger beer, with alcohol contents of 5 percent or more.

Kansas law says convenience and grocery stores may sell only "cereal malt beverage," or beer with less than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. Only liquor stores can sell full-strength beer.

Both cities must wait two months to give residents a chance to challenge the ordinances by petition. If no one makes such a challenge, the ordinances will go into effect and the cities will be able to set fees, hours of operation and other regulations.

Attorneys for QuikTrip and Casey's General Stores lobbied the two cities. They said lifting the ban would give convenience stores and groceries the opportunity to sell beer seven days a week.

They said they had no intention to push for lifting the ban on convenience and grocery stores selling wine and liquor.

"We consider this an issue of fundamental fairness," said Bob Stephan, former Kansas attorney general and a lawyer representing QuikTrip.

But Gil Porter, owner of Porter Liquor Store, said he wouldn't be able to compete with the chains.

"They say they don't want liquor and they don't want wine," Porter said. "But two to three years down the line, we know what's going to happen."

A spokesman said Atty. Gen. Phill Kline would not comment on the ordinances while studying them.

The restrictions on the sale of different strengths of beer is a holdover from Kansas' past, when its constitution prohibited the sale of intoxicating beverages. During the 1930s, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that cereal malt beverage was not intoxicating.

Also, although the state's legal drinking age is 21, before 1985, Kansans could drink cereal malt beverage at 18.

The Kansas Legislature is expected to address changes to the Liquor Control Act in its 2004 session, which begins Jan. 12.

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