New coalition pushing to relax Kansas liquor laws

? A new coalition that includes chains such as Walmart, Hy-Vee and QuikTrip is pushing to change Kansas laws regulating where beer and hard liquor are sold in the state, but opponents are already gearing up to fight the effort.

Supporters of the proposed changes, called Coalition for Jobs and Consumer Choice, on Tuesday contended that a bill in the Kansas Senate that would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength alcoholic beverages would generate more than 12,000 new jobs, as well as $216 million in wages and $72 million in new taxes per year.

But an association of liquor stores immediately challenged those claims, saying the numbers are exaggerated and the bill’s main goal is to move lucrative liquor sales from small businesses to the large chains.

Currently, grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations in Kansas are allowed to sell only wine coolers and cereal-malt beverages, sometimes called “weak” or “3.2” beer and wine coolers. The bill introduced Tuesday would allow those stores to sell liquor and full-strength beer and wine. It also would allow liquor stores, which are limited to selling only alcoholic beverages, to begin selling other products such as food, gas or other items.

The state currently has 766 liquor stores, said Tom Gorneman, director of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Department.

Art Hall, director of the Center for Applied Economics at The University of Kansas, said a study he conducted for the coalition found that about 341 liquor stores would go out of business, and 1,154 jobs would be lost if other retailers could sell full-strength alcoholic beverages, The Wichita Eagle reported.

But he said those losses would be more than offset because the state would likely add 116 grocery stores, with 3,987 jobs. And another 449 new convenience stores would employee 9,349 people.

Spencer Duncan, representing the liquor-store alliance called Keep Kansans in Business, predicted that the bill would be rejected by the Legislature, which has turned back similar attempts on the past.

“Those who want to change Kansas liquor laws are primarily out-of-state entities focused on profit, not the Kansas economy or the safety of its citizens and its communities,” said Duncan, who contended that pawn shops, adult gift stores and smoke shops would be able to sell wine, beer and spirits under the bill.

“This is not a tweak in the system,” Duncan told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “This is a reckless and seismic shift in how Kansas views and handles retail alcohol sales.”

The bill would freeze the number of liquor licenses allowed in the state for three years to allow liquor stores to adjust to the new competition. Grocery or convenience store operators who want to get in the business during those three years would most likely have to buy a license from a current store operator in the same county.

The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee will conduct hearings on the bill Monday and Tuesday at the Capitol.