Stronger beer could be sold in Kansas grocery and convenience stores in two years if the governor signs a bill the Legislature has approved.
The Kansas Senate voted for the bill 27-11 after less than an hour of debate Friday morning. The House approved it 85-40 on Thursday.
The bill would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with an alcohol content of up to 6 percent by volume starting in April 2019. Liquor stores would be allowed to sell products other than alcohol — such as ice, mixers and shot glasses — up to 20 percent of their sales.
The change would not allow the sale of wine in grocery and convenience stores, something Uncork Kansas proponents have pushed for.
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Supporters have argued the changes would give customers more choices. Opponents say that strong beer should remain in a more controlled environment and that the changes could put family-owned liquor stores out of business.
A measure supported by Uncork proponents finally gained traction this year in part because Oklahoma and Colorado overhauled their alcohol laws to soon allow full-strength beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores. Some Uncork proponents have argued those changes will lead to brewers backing away from production of 3.2 percent beer because of reduced demand.
Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican, said the plan would provide a two-year transition “so businesses can prepare for the eventuality that 3.2 beer will not be available in sufficient quantities.”
“This is a pre-emptive bill to protect both the grocery industry and the liquor store industry,” Lynn said. It “is the solution to the dilemma as crafted by the stakeholders.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, criticized the expedited process that the Legislature took to move the bill forward.
“We have no opportunity, as senators, to offer amendments, and I think that’s unfortunate that we’ve been put into this position,” he said.
He said the bill would put family-owned liquor stores at a disadvantage to large corporations, citing a person he’s known since high school who owns a liquor store across from a Wal-Mart.
“The mom-and-pop shops are really kind of the last bastion of those kinds of businesses,” Hensley said. “I believe we are going to put a lot of retail liquor people out of business.”
The state’s Alcohol Beverage Control would do a market impact study in 2029 on the law’s effects.