A good compromise? Maybe…

Syndicated to Kansas newspapers April 10, 2017
Martin HawverThey’ve gone home for three weeks, and members of the Kansas Legislature are likely to be questioned not only about the budget or Medicaid or taxes, but also about just what they’ve done to the liquor industry, or will be allowed to do by Gov. Sam Brownback.
With most of the 2017 legislative session over, and what most old-timers refer to as the wrap-up or veto session ready to start May 1, one of the few big issues settled so far on the floor of the House and Senate is whether convenience and grocery stores can sell “strong beer” with about double the fire-power (6 percent alcohol) of what is technically a cereal malt beverage or “grocery store beer” that has about 3.2 percent alcohol.
Now, the issue is a relatively small one that probably only sends shivers down the spines of parents whose children look 18 when they’re younger and can buy grocery store beer if they’re clever enough. But, it’s just that 3.2 stuff, and just the bathroom breaks needed to become a little tipsy are a deterrent.
But, Kansas lawmakers were told that there is such a small national market for 3.2 beer that it’s likely to become extinct and the only beers available to convenience stores and groceries and such—basically, non-liquor stores—are going to be 6 percenters.
So, we go to 6 percent everywhere, and depending on a veto or not, you won’t have to visit the liquor store where you can’t even buy indoor ice, let alone cups or corkscrews or tonic to take the edge off the vodka, to get that strong beer.
The compromise? Because nearly all legislation is a compromise, the deal is that those liquor stores suddenly will be allowed to make up to 20 percent of their revenue from things that aren’t liquor—not allowed now. Imagine buying that ice, or corkscrew, or maybe chips and sandwiches and cups and, who knows, maybe bullets. Those extra permissible sales are designed to make now single-product liquor stores the only stop you’ll have to make on the way to the lake or the park or maybe grandma’s for dinner. Oh, and the liquor stores get to sell all the Lottery tickets and cigarettes that they can, which won’t be counted against that 20 percent.
Is this a good idea? Or maybe just the only culture-rattling legislation that the Kansas Legislature could pass in the main portion of its session?
Now, of course, the grocery/convenience store folks are happy, the liquor store folks worried about the future of their business.
And…lingering in the background is the real goal of those non-liquor stores: To be able to sell wine and hard liquor, or at least wine, racks of which they might put just footsteps from cheese trays and other accompaniments for liquor.
Probably most interesting: The grocery/convenience store crowd says if the bill passes, it won’t ask for 10 years for that 6 percent beer benchmark to be expanded to include the wine and liquors that are the financial oxygen for liquor store owners.
Some believe that the 10-year moratorium on the grocery/convenience store liquor product expansion is a guarantee that those liquor stores will still be able to turn a profit for at least a decade…but most Statehouse habitues believe that the 10-year business is just a selling point that will disappear well before then.
Lots of issues, lots of small mom-and-pop liquor stores say they are in danger of being put out of business by the convenience store down the block.
We’ll see where this goes, won’t we?

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