Government & Politics

After initial failure, KC Council makes it easier for ex-felons to serve liquor

Restaurant owner Anton Kotar wants to hire more felons

Anton Kotar, owner of Anton’s Taproom at 1610 Main St., traveled to Jefferson City to testify for a bill that would allow felons to serve liquor and sell lottery tickets. He has hired about 25 people with felony records since the restaurant opened
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Anton Kotar, owner of Anton’s Taproom at 1610 Main St., traveled to Jefferson City to testify for a bill that would allow felons to serve liquor and sell lottery tickets. He has hired about 25 people with felony records since the restaurant opened

After a surprise failure last week, the Kansas City Council revised and passed an ordinance that makes it easier for ex-offenders to serve liquor, proving that, in political debates, nothing is ever dead.

Council members revived and nearly unanimously passed a plan that eliminates the need for liquor cards for some employees and eases waiting periods for others. After little discussion, the ordinance passed on a 9-1 vote.

The goal behind the ordinance was to open up more job opportunities for ex-offenders in an accessible industry.

“If we have the ability for removing one more obstacle that is in the way of someone getting a job, then I want to try to do that,” said 4th District Councilwoman Jolie Justus, a mayoral candidate.

She added she wanted to see as many options as possible for those who are reentering the job force after serving time for a felony.

Under the ordinance, liquor cards will not be required for employees selling packaged liquor in stores. Those convicted of selling drugs will no longer face a waiting period before they can obtain a card to serve at bars and restaurants.

Offenders convicted of some felonies, including first-or second degree assault, domestic assault, robbery, armed criminal action, sexual exploitation of a minor, or trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, will have to wait five years to get a liquor card.

The most dangerous offenders — those who have been convicted of crimes like murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, sodomy, kidnapping or child molestation — will still be barred for life.

Kansas City Council members have been working on the ordinance since September, but it failed last week over concerns about clearly defining who would face the five-year waiting period. The original plan Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, a mayoral candidate, introduced this fall would have scrapped the card system entirely. But that faced opposition from victim advocacy groups concerned about public safety.

Former Councilman John Sharp, president of the South Kansas City Alliance and an opponent of the original version, said the version members passed Thursday does not place the public at risk.

He worked on a previous ordinance easing liquor permit requirements when he was on the City Council.

The lone vote against Thursday’s revised ordinance was Councilman Quinton Lucas, who represents the city’s 3rd District at-large and is running for mayor. He argued restaurants should be treated differently from bars that stay open late, noting that service industry jobs can be very accessible.

“I think that if somebody’s hustling and is able to get a job at the Applebee’s down the street, at the Olive Garden or something of that sort, which might require them to occasionally bring a beer to a family eating dinner, I don’t know if we should make them go through the same burdensome requirement that the guy who’s closing down the recordBar at 3 a.m. should,” Lucas said.

Council members Wagner, Heather Hall, Jermaine Reed, Katheryn Shields, Justus, Lee Barnes, Alissia Canady, Scott Taylor and Kevin McManus voted for the ordinance. Lucas voted against. Teresa Loar, Dan Fowler and Mayor Sly James were absent Thursday.

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