Monday, November 24, 2014

FINCH: Big bills brewing in Topeka

By BLAINE FINCH, Kansas State Representative | 2/10/2014

Greetings from the snowy Kansas Statehouse.

As I write this, we are preparing to go on general orders for the first time this session. General orders is that part of the legislative process where the house acts as one large committee and considers bills. Members can make amendments and debate the bill before a vote is taken to move the bill to final action. Final action typically takes place at least one day later and is the final recorded vote on the bill.

Right now, we have four bills that are non-controversial (two insurance matters, one bill allowing homebrewers of beer to share with their friends, and one allowing the Stillwell Township in Johnson County to continue to employ a crossing guard near a school). Not every bill is a big one, and sometimes we take them as they come.

Uncorked

On the bigger bills front, we are going to start seeing some large issues come before us. Some of you have asked about the bill that would allow liquor sales in grocery and convenience stores. The shorthand name is the “uncorked” bill. This bill has been introduced in committee again this year after not getting out of committee last year. Proponents of the bill argue it will be more convenient for consumers to be able to purchase wine and spirits when they purchase their groceries. They also contend it will create jobs at grocery and convenience stores.  

Those who oppose the bill argue it will hurt local businesses who have made investments in liquor stores under the current regulatory environment; it will not create a significant number of new jobs as big grocery stores will not add personnel just because they add a new product; and they cite the social concerns of making liquor more readily available and more visible to young people.

I opposed the bill last year for many of the reasons cited above. While I would like to make more profit available to our local convenience stores, the likely outcome in this district is that several of the locally owned liquor stores would go out of business while big box retailers would benefit. These local stores tend to purchase their supplies and services locally, which creates a beneficial economic ripple effect. Also, the current regulations do not bar grocers and convenience store owners from selling liquor if they choose to obtain the permits and create a separate entrance to their liquor store. We have one such convenience store in Franklin County.

I am committed to preserving our local businesses and jobs. If there are changes to the law that allow for a proper balance between customer convenience and preservation of our hometown businesses, I will consider it at that time. But for now, I think the harms of this idea outweigh the benefits.

Blaine Finch is a Kansas House member, representing Franklin County.

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