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Special guest at 12th Street Jump was Jim Mair, director of instrumental music at Kansas City Kansas Community College. Supporting Mair were 12th Street Jump musicians Joe Cartwright (piano), Tyrone Clark (bass), and Mike Warren (drums).

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by Mary Rupert

Uncork Kansas, a lobbying group for grocery and convenience stores, will try again this year to get a bill passed allowing strong beer and wine to be sold at grocery and convenience stores.

The bill was introduced in the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee Jan. 28, and was awaiting assignment for a hearing, according to the bill’s supporters.

The bill has been unsuccessful in prior years, opposed by mom-and-pop liquor stores in Kansas, which say they will be hurt by such a change in the laws.

Currently, groceries and convenience stores cannot sell anything stronger than 3.2 percent beer, backers of the legislation say. Across the borders in Missouri and Nebraska, consumers can buy stronger beer at convenience stores and groceries.

The bill that was introduced also would allow existing liquor stores to sell their liquor license to grocery stores or convenience stores in their county, according to Uncork Kansas.

“We feel very confident that 2015 is the year we will finally pass Uncork Kansas legislation, and we know that Kansans are eagerly awaiting the passage of this bill,” said Jessica Lucas, a spokesman for the effort. She said there is a lot of consumer support for it.

She said she thinks of the bill as mostly a “beer bill,” allowing groceries and convenience stores to sell regular beer or “real beer.” The chairman of the drive is David Dillon, former CEO of Kroger.

Lucas said the license provision in the bill gives liquor store owners all the power, and they will not have to sell their licenses to grocery stores. The bill also allows liquor stores to expand and sell items such as chips. Also under the bill, a person or company could own more than one liquor store.

“Our state and our country were founded on free market principles, and people shop where they get the service that’s important to them, whether it is customer service, price or selection,” Lucas said. “Those market decisions are made every day by consumers. We believe they want to be able to decide where to shop and not to have the government dictate where.”

Manu Rattan, owner of the Village West Discount Liquor store at 11010 Parallel Parkway in Kansas City, Kan., said this bill would probably put half of the liquor stores in Kansas out of business. These liquor stores, all owned by Kansas residents, would be replaced by chains that would be sending the profits out of state, he said.

While Uncork Kansas argues that it would be more competitive to allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell liquor, Rattan says there’s more competition now.

There are 750 liquor stores in the state, owned by individuals who live in their local Kansas communities. If half of them go out of business, they would be replaced by a few chain stores, he said.

“I don’t see how to make it any more competitive than it is now,” Rattan said.

There are mom-and-pop liquor stores in Kansas that have been there for multiple generations, and that is how the people have made their living, he said.

Rattan’s liquor store is within a half-mile of Walmart and Sam’s Club, which sell groceries and so would be allowed to carry the stronger beer and wine.

“Here’s what will happen,” Rattan said. “I have a very large store, I invested a lot of money in my store. I employ 15 employees. They (Walmart) are not going to come and buy my liquor license. They are going to buy a liquor license from a store on its way out of business, make a low offer to him, and they will open up right next door to me.”

The change in the law could put him and the store’s employees out of work, while it would not necessarily create any new jobs at the groceries and convenience stores, he said.

Rattan said that a change to allowing groceries and convenience stores to offer stronger alcohol than 3.2 percent beer would not generate any additional tax revenues for the state of Kansas, since liquor is already widely available here.

“Just because they can buy it at a grocery store does not mean they’re going to start drinking more,” he said.

Rattan had questions about whether 16-year-olds and 18-year-olds would be allowed to sell liquor and wine at grocery stores and convenience stores. “Do we want to have 18-year-olds handling liquor?” he asked. Currently, employees working in liquor stores have to be 21. Rattan also asked if liquor customers would have to go to a different line at a grocery store, one where a cashier is 21 or older.

Lucas said she has heard that one store across the state line in Missouri had said 30 percent of its business is from Kansas, but there was no firm evidence of how much business, and how much sales tax, may be going across the state line.

Rattan said there is no actual data on Kansas persons buying liquor across the state line. Since there are no liquor products the chains are selling in Missouri that are not being sold in Kansas, he doubted that this argument is valid.

The Unified Government is not taking any position on this bill, as it is not expected to affect the amount of revenues it receives, according to Mike Taylor, UG lobbyist.

State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., said he is not in favor of the bill. He said liquor is already widely available at liquor stores in his district, and the bill could adversely affect the small mom-and-pop liquor stores.

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Gov. Sam Brownback today announced his nomination of Topeka attorney Kathryn Gardner to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Gardner currently is a legal adviser and law clerk to U.S. District Judge Sam Crow. She has held the position since 2000.

After graduating from the University of Kansas School of Law, Gardner began her legal career as a research attorney at the Kansas Court of Appeals. She served as an assistant attorney general in the office of Kansas Attorney General Bob Stephan before joining a Wichita law firm.

Gardner, a Topeka resident, began her career teaching high school English and French. As an adjunct professor at Washburn University School of Law, she taught trial practice and legal writing.

“Kathryn Gardner brings tremendous qualities to the Court of Appeals,” Gov. Brownback said. “She is a gifted individual and accomplished attorney who is deeply committed to serving her community and the state. I am pleased to appoint her and look forward to the Senate’s review and confirmation.”

Gardner is active in the community, working with local charities and serving as chair of the Kansas Bar Association’s Law-Related Education Committee.

“I am deeply grateful to my family – my husband Tim, my three daughters, my mother and my two brothers for their unconditional love and support,” Gardner said. “I am grateful to all who have helped develop my character and legal abilities. And I am grateful to Governor Brownback for this opportunity to serve the citizens of Kansas.”