For decades, Kansas City has required thousands of employees working in establishments that sell alcohol to get a liquor card, which ensures the city will do a criminal background check.
Now the restaurant industry is urging the City Council to do away with that requirement, calling it an overly burdensome regulation that isn’t used in Kansas or in Lee’s Summit and some other Missouri-side suburbs.
“The burden falls on the employees who have to prove their innocence,” Jason Pryor, government affairs chairman for the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, told the City Council’s public safety committee Wednesday.
Potential employees must pay for the liquor card, which costs $42 for a three-year period, before they are hired. Pryor said employers already screen the people they hire, and public safety is not enhanced by this extra layer of city bureaucracy. He said the card is just one more barrier for people who may not have the cash or transportation to the Regulated Industries Division offices.
Some restaurant owners also complained that regulators show up to check for employee liquor cards right at the busiest time on Saturday nights, causing great inconvenience and disruption to their business.
“Do us a favor, please,” said retired restaurateur Carl DiCapo. “Remove this.”
But Regulated Industries manager Jim Ready said public safety is at stake. He argued that the city background checks are one way to ensure customers are not endangered by bartenders, waiters and other employees who might otherwise have criminal records that employers don’t catch.
He pointed to one instance in 2009 in which a customer was raped by employees of an illegal club where the workers did not have valid liquor cards and had not been screened by the city.
Michelle Wycoff, who worked as a Kansas City police officer for 10 years, testified that she worries about possible consequences if the city halts its background checks.
“The things that could happen scare me,” she said.
Councilman Scott Wagner introduced the proposal to eliminate the liquor card requirement and said he at least wants to prompt the debate. He said he was aware of the 2009 incident but pointed out that about 10,000 people a year get the card. He wondered whether so many people need to be inconvenienced and so many businesses need to deal with this regulation just to catch a few felons every six years.
The committee postponed a vote on the measure at least until next Wednesday. Committee chairman John Sharp said he would be amenable to dropping the liquor card requirement for stock clerks and others who don’t deal with the public, but he still wants the regulation for anyone dealing with customers.