- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Proposals on tap for legislative committees would help Kansas hobbyists and small breweries and phase in grocery store sales of strong beer, wine and liquor, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday how far lawmakers would go in further repudiating the state’s dry history.

The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee had a hearing Wednesday on a bill to ease restrictions on home brewers so that they’d be able to share their beer, wine and cider with friends and have them judged at competitions, rather than limiting home brews to personal or family consumption. The committee expects to vote on the bill next week, and the measure passed the House overwhelmingly last month.

The Senate committee approved a bill last week to allow microbreweries to make 30,000 barrels of beer a year, doubling the current limit. The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee had a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would go further, eliminating the production limit allowing microbreweries their own beer to restaurants, bars and liquor stores, instead of requiring them to go through distribution companies. However, the Kansas Beer Wholesalers Association opposes it.

The House committee also planned to begin debate Thursday on a bill expanding sales of strong beer, wine and liquor into grocery and convenience stores over the next 10 years. Kansas currently allows those stores to sell only weak beer, and liquor store owners have successfully resisted a push for changes from grocery and convenience-store chains.

The proposals would further distance Kansas from its past. Voters enacted a prohibition amendment to the state constitution in 1880 and didn’t repeal it until 1948, 15 years after the national prohibition experiment ended. And saloon-smashing Carrie Nation remains a Kansas icon.

“Change is really hard,” said Tom Palace, a lobbyist for the state’s convenience store association. “We’re not going to stop until we make more headway.”

The measure sought by grocery and convenience stores would allow liquor store owners to sell their licenses to other retailers in the same county, starting in July 2015. Grocery and convenience stores would be allowed to start strong beer in July 2017, wine in July 2020 and liquor in July 2024.

Supporters of the bill said Wednesday that it would spur competition, which would benefit consumers and create jobs. But many liquor store owners fear that big retail chains will buy the licenses for struggling stores and use their size to crush other competitors until the state has few or no mom-and-pop stores.

“The consumers in the state of Kansas are getting good products for a good value, and that’s because we have now have one store about every 3,500 citizens,” said Tuck Duncan, lobbyist for the Kansas Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association, which opposes the bill. “We’ve had 750 stores for a decade, and the marketplace has seemed to level off.”

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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