Proposed bill would relax Kansas liquor laws

LENEXA, Kan. - Should grocery and convenience stores in the Sunflower State be allowed to sell liquor, wine and full-strength beer?

That's the question lawmakers in Topeka are reviewing this week. One House committee could vote on it as early as Tuesday.

The possible change in Kansas' liquor laws -- considered among the nation's most strict -- pits liquor store owners against supermarkets, convenience stores and some business groups like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

"I'd probably be able to survive for a little bit, but eventually it would put me out of business," Leon Roberts, owner of Valley Wine and Spirits in Lenexa, said of the proposed bill. "There's going to be a few very large stores that might make it. They're not going to do the business they once did."

Liquor store owners opposing the bill have cast theirs as a David-and-Goliath battle between Kansans and the superpowers of Walmart in Arkansas and Quik-Trip in Oklahoma.

"Everyone who owns a liquor store in Kansas is a Kansas resident. And so any profits that we make stay in the state of Kansas," Roberts said. "These other companies that are trying to get this passed, these big-box stores, these convenience stores, any profits that they make out of this are going to go out of state."

Uncork Kansas, a collection of businesses and trade groups supporting the proposed changes in Kansas' liquor laws, says that is an oversimplification, and that reforming Kansas' laws would be good for consumers, as well as smaller retailers -- particularly in rural parts of the state.

"Thousands of Kansas consumers want to be able to buy a bottle of wine at the grocery store. Small, rural mom and pop grocery and convenience stores all across the state struggling to stay in business will benefit from expanding their product offerings," a spokesperson for Uncork Kansas said in a statement. "Reforming the liquor laws will help stop the border leakage that happens when consumers cross over to Missouri for the convenience of one-stop shopping. Consumers win when retailers compete, that's the beauty of a free enterprise system."

"I'm fine with it," Rory Snow said of the proposed changes as he finished his shopping at a Price Chopper grocery in Lenexa. "Competition. If you have two people selling the same product next to each other, they have to be more competitive on their pricing."

Some Kansans also question the social impacts of expanding alcohol sales.

"I'm not overly thrilled with increasing opportunities for people to access more alcohol," said Bill Moore of Olathe. "Probably if I were voting, I would vote against it."

The Commerce and Economic Development committee will review the bill on Monday, and could vote to send it to the rest of the House on Tuesday. In several previous attempts in years past, no similar bill has ever made it to a floor vote.

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