Idaho, Kansas Update Liquor Laws

Published June 1, 2004

For the first time in more than 70 years, Idaho consumers can buy distilled spirits any day of the week. Governor Dirk Kempthorne (R) signed legislation on March 19 authorizing county officials to permit Sunday alcohol sales in state-owned and state-contracted liquor stores; the law goes into effect on July 1.

Before the new law’s passage, adult consumers were permitted to purchase only beer or wine on Sundays. Under the new law, county officials can vote to allow Sunday spirits sales in their state-controlled liquor stores, or they can place a Sunday-sales measure on the general election ballot for a popular vote.

Backers of the legislation considered it a victory for customer convenience and pointed out liquor stores would benefit from the additional foot traffic, increased liquor sales, and increased commissions they would make on those sales.

“This historic change is a big victory for Idaho consumers and tourists,” said Peter Cressey, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), which lobbied aggressively in support of the bill. “Idaho joins the growing list of states that recognize the consumer and commercial benefits of Sunday spirits sales. Shoppers have more convenient choices, businesses are more successful, and the state generates additional revenue.”

Idaho is now the 28th state–the seventh in the past two years–to roll back its Sunday sales ban. Within the past two years, DISCUS has been instrumental in repealing Sunday sales bans in Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

According to DISCUS, many other states–including Connecticut, Kansas, Ohio, and Virginia–are considering lifting Sunday bans as a way to “modernize the marketplace while raising much-needed tax revenue.”

Kansas Court OKs Sunday Sales
In a unanimous ruling on March 19, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a 2003 ruling of the Wyandotte County District Court, which concluded “cities [can] exempt themselves from the state’s Sunday alcohol sales ban because the 1949 Liquor Control Act did not apply uniformly to all cities.” Under the state’s home-rule amendment to the constitution, cities are permitted to exempt themselves from non-uniform acts.

Many retailers, who stayed open on Sundays while the court deliberated, hailed the ruling. “It’s going to keep tax dollars here rather than going to Kansas City, Missouri,” retailer Merrill “Pee Wee” Wright told the Kansas City Kansan. “My business has really been good on Sundays. It’s like adding four more Saturdays every month. It hasn’t taken away from the Saturday business, either.”

The Sunday alcohol sales debate began in November 2002, when Kansas City, Kansas residents voted 59 percent to 41 percent to permit retail liquor stores to sell spirits, beer, and wine on Sundays. The state’s attorney general challenged the measure in court after some municipalities began approving Sunday sales.

Wyandotte County led the way in approving Sunday liquor sales, and several other cities in the Kansas City area and around the state also have done so.

The court’s decision permits cities to authorize Sunday alcohol sales, but also to ban them. On April 2, DISCUS urged the Kansas legislature to “pass uniform legislation allowing Sunday alcohol sales statewide.”

“This Supreme Court ruling is a win for consumers, small businesses, and the state of Kansas,” said DISCUS President Cressey. “We call on the legislature to finally put this issue to rest by passing a uniform Liquor Control Act permitting the sale of alcohol on Sunday. Kansas consumers deserve no less.”

In late April, Kansas senators voted 19-16 against allowing Sunday sales when that was presented as an amendment to a liquor laws uniformity bill. The bill passed 27-12, without Sunday sales.

The uniformity bill, which passed the state house in a different form, is likely destined for a conference committee.

“I hope that Sunday sales will emerge from the conference committee because the voters in the municipalities have already voted the referendum in support of it,” said Senator David Haley (D-Kansas City). “If Sunday sales are rejected, thousands of Kansans will resort to going back to Missouri for their purchases, which would be as regressive as this state could get, considering our fiscal problems.”

John Skorburg is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His email address is [email protected].