Senate, House put seal of approval on liquor bills for state fair and Sunday sales

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Originally published by Kansas Reflector on March 24, 2021:

TOPEKA — Fort Scott Republican Rep. Trevor Jacobs voted against a bill Wednesday liberalizing hours people can buy alcoholic beverages on Sundays at Kansas retail stores despite personal acknowledgement people should be allowed to drink in a responsible manner.

Jacobs’ trepedation didn’t turn the tide on House Bill 2406, which passed on a bipartisan vote 80-42. It would widen availability of beer, wine and alcohol at retail stores to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. Under current law, consumers can buy booze from noon to 8 p.m. Sundays.

“I’m not opposed to someone drinking if they choose to stay on their side of the road,” Jacobs said. “But I do believe the state has gone too far for opening up alcohol sales and encouraging consumption as early as 9 in the morning on Sundays.”

He also said he was amazed by the Legislature’s unwillingness to say “enough is not enough when it comes to expanding gambling, drugs, alcohol and sexual deviancies in the state.”

While the House was finishing up work on the liquor-hour bill, the Senate put a stamp of approval on House Bill 2137. The bill would amend state law to enable the spouse of someone employed as a law enforcement officer to hold a Kansas liquor license on condition the officer didn’t work in the same county as the licensee. In addition, it would enable a person to take home unconsumed, unopened cereal malt beverages from a drinking establishment.

Senators also approved by an identical 31-8 margin the contents of Senate Bill 8, which expanded the zone on grounds of the Kansas State Fair for people to consume beer or wine purchased by vendors.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on a DUI bill based on recommendations of the Kansas Judicial Council. In Kansas, impaired driving fatalities account for about 25% of all traffic deaths annually.

Aaron Brietenbach, chief attorney in the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office, said the bill would change state law by dropping a statute suspeding a person’s driving privileges for 30 days or one year after a test refusal, test failure or DUI conviction. The idea is individuals would instead have an opportunity to apply for installation of an interlock device to begin driving to work, school, treatment programs or an interlock provider.

“Serving a period of suspension can be very hard for Kansans, especially those in rural communities or those without access to public transportation,” he said.

Joel Skelley, director of policy at the Kansas Department of Transportation, said the agency would be opposed to the interlock DUI bill unless it was amended to put the state back into compliance with federal regulations on repeat DUI offender penalties. The bill would drop minimum sentences for repeat offenders, he said, and absence of those provisions would trigger greater restriction on how the state spent $8.6 million annually in federal highway funding.

On Monday, the Senate committee also took up a bill passed unanimously by the House raising to a felony the crime of fleeing from law enforcement officers while driving on the wrong side of a road.

The Legislature’s consideration of the cluster of liquor and DUI bills followed arrest March 16 of Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, on suspicion of DUI based on allegations he drove while intoxicated at high speed on the wrong side of Interstate 70 while chased for five minutes by the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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