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TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kansas would phase in the sale of full-strength beer, wine and liquor in grocery and convenience stores by 2017 under a bill endorsed Tuesday by the state Federal and State Affairs Committee, according to an Associated Press report.
The committee rewrote the legislation before approving it, to slow down what would be historic changes in Kansas' liquor laws. The committee's voice vote sent the measure to the Senate for debate, which could occur as early as Friday.
Senators tried to balance the long-standing desire of grocery and convenience store owners to expand what they can sell, starting next year, vs. liquor store owners' worries that changing the law will allow large retail chains to drive them out of business. Backers of expanded sales saw the committee's action as a significant victory, while liquor store owners still appeared upset.
Current state law allows grocery and convenience stores to sell "cereal malt beverage," also known as "weak" or "low-point" beer. Kansas is one of only five states to make such a distinction about beer based on the alcohol content of the brew, the AP reported.
Supporters argue a change in liquor laws will create new jobs and generate revenues for the state, as well as help struggling rural grocery stores and stores in some border counties. Liquor store owners, however, argue the main beneficiaries will be big, out-of-state retail chains.
Kansas law now limits liquor licenses to people who've lived in the state for at least four years, with an individual allowed to own a single store. Those restrictions would be removed.
Under the endorsed bill, liquor stores would continue to hold special licenses allowing them to sell liquor, along with full-strength beer and wine. The number of such licenses -- now at 762 -- couldn't increase statewide from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2016, the report stated.
But if a liquor store gave up its license, a grocery or convenience store could try to obtain it from the state, or a liquor store owner could agree to sell a license. Starting in 2017, there'd be no restrictions on the number of liquor licenses the state could issue, opening liquor stores to competition from grocery and convenience stores.