Kansas City business owner battles employee bar cards

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Before you start working as a bartender, bouncer, or server in Kansas City, you have to get your employee liquor permit. That will set you back $42.

For out-of-work server DeAnna Arnold, that is money she doesn't have.

"It is tough, tough," she said. So tough, Arnold said she had to turn down a serving job in Kansas City because she couldn't come up with the money upfront.

"It's a horrible thought," she said. "I could be employed if I had the extra money."

"You can't put roadblocks in front of people to get jobs," said longtime Westport real estate and business owner Bill Nigro. "People come into bars and restaurants for work, they're penniless."

"What am I paying for?" shrugged Arnold.

Jim Ready is ready with the answer to a question he's used to hearing.

"It is all about public safety," he said. Ready runs the Regulated Industries Division, which is in charge of licenses for liquors and taxi cabs among other things.

Ready said $21.50 of the $42 cost pays for a nationwide background check to keep certain, dangerous felons out.

"This is a bad analogy, but you do not want a sex offender serving drinks in a liquor establishment," he said. "Makes about as much sense as a child molester working in a day care."

In Kansas, Department of Revenue officials said no city requires employees to get individual liquor permits. City officials from Olathe, Overland Park, Lenexa and Kansas City, Kansas, all confirm that. The cities of Lee's Summit and Springfield in Missouri don't require individual permits either.

There are Missouri cities that do require permits, but charge much less. Independence requires a $15 city-wide background check while St. Louis requires an $11 statewide background check through the Missouri Highway Patrol.

So does Kansas City need a nationwide background check if other large cities seem to be functioning without them? Ready argues yes.

"I know for 100% fact that when we used to do the exact same checks St. Louis did, we had convicted felons working in our city," he said.

The rest of the $42 fee, $20.50, pays to keep the rest of the Regulated Industries Division running. That includes their legal investigators who review and inspect all the licenses including liquor licenses.

"The money we collect, I'm not even paying for staff. That's why I had to go through a reduction in force myself this year," said Ready who had to let two investigators go.

Even with the extensive background check, Nigro doesn't think the permit is necessary.

"I can do a much better job than the city can," he said. "I don't need the city to help protect me."

Nigro next plans to take his fight to the city council.

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