TOPEKA — A proposal to allow the sale of liquor in convenience stores and grocery stores will come before the state Legislature this year, even though lawmakers have rejected a similar proposal in the past.
Uncork Kansas, a coalition of convenience stores, grocery stores, and chambers of commerce, said it planned to have a bill introduced “as early in the legislative session as possible,” said Jody Hanson, a spokeswoman for the group.
Kansans can buy liquor only in retail liquor stores, except for 3.2 beer and wine coolers. Supporters of the changes say the state law is antiquated and restricts the free market, while liquor store owners contend they might be forced out of business if the law changes, The Wichita Eagle reported.
Kent Eckles, vice president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said the existing law allows the state to choose which businesses can sell liquor.
“It is protecting an illegal monopoly,” he said.
Hanson predicted that more grocery and convenience stores would be built if the laws are changed, bringing more jobs to the state.
But Spencer Duncan, executive director of Keep Kansans in Business said the legislation would hurt existing stores, particularly in rural areas.
“We know that passing it opens no new businesses in the state of Kansas. However, we know passing it closes businesses in the state of Kansas,” he said.
Duncan said he was disappointed that the Kansas Chamber of Commerce supports the new proposed legislation because it contradicts the chamber’s goal of expanding the tax base. Money would go to states where corporations like Wal-Mart and QuikTrip are headquartered, he said.
“Dollars to liquor stores stay in the local communities. A dollar must stay in an economy for that economy to prosper,” he said. “It makes no sense to let that dollar leave.”
Hanson said more than 27,000 people have signed a petition in support of changing the liquor laws, and 2,500 have sent messages of support to legislators through Uncork Kansas’ website.
This year’s debate might be different in a Legislature with several new lawmakers who were elected after redistricting last year.
Eckles said he expects another difficult battle in the legislature. “There’s a lot of free-market people in the Legislature, but it takes several years for big ideas like this to pass,” he said.
Duncan said he doesn’t know what to expect.
“When you have so many new legislators, it’s a double-sided coin,” Duncan said. “Who the heck knows what they’re going to do? It’s a little scary. On the other side, we have a chance to educate new people.”