Jackson Co. voters face ballot question about liquor-by-the-drink law

Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 6:30 PM CDT
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HOLTON, Kan. (WIBW) - As early in-person voting kicked off in Jackson County Wednesday, voters were faced with the question regarding how business can sell alcohol.

The question reads: “Shall sale of alcoholic liquor by the individual drink in Jackson County, Kansas be allowed in public places without a requirement that any portion of their gross receipts be from sales of food?”

“There’s laws out there that tell you how you can get your liquor by the drink and it puts some stipulation on it,” said Jackson County Clerk Kathy Mick.

“Currently, we have the stipulation that we require that the drinking establishments, their gross receipts, 30 percent of that has to be by food sales consumed on the premises.”

Sean Willcott, who is leading the effort to get the food requirement removed, went before Jackson Co. Commissioners in April to get the question added to ballots in November.

Willcott is in the process of opening his brewery, Willcott Brewing Company, in Holton and said his type of business works best if he can sell his product.

“For us at Willcott Brewing Company, that really boils down to the opportunity for us to sell our product that we’re going to be producing on site to the public to come in and enjoy at this facility,” he said.

“The original reason was to allow tourists for when they come in to tour the brewery when we’re up and running the opportunity to taste some beer here while they’re on site, to buy a pint if they wanted to do so."

Willcott said he does not want to be added competitions to restaurants.

“Holton has plenty of opportunities has plenty of good businesses as is; today, we have a number of good restaurants and we have no intention of being competitive in that market we would rather compliment them with having an opportunity to open a tap room where we could just sell our product,” he said.

“We would much rather focus on producing quality beer versus trying to be another restaurant to what we have in Holton.”

Willcott has been working to educate voters on what the change could do for the local economy even if it does involve expanding the sale of alcohol.

“I’d rather have people understand that it’s not really a negative aspect on things more that it’s more of an opportunity for smaller businesses around once people understand that they really do seem quite supportive,” he said.

“Alcohol can obviously be taken to the extreme and have negative effects of things I would venture to say in my opinion that that can be managed properly and still be enjoyed socially and responsibly where that should not be an issue.”

However, opponents of the change like the Kansas Nebraska Convention for Southern Baptists (KNCSB) believe keeping a food requirement adds to potential customers.

“The preference is that it’d be more balanced and have it be more of a family environment for the use of food and if it was just alcohol it might rule out having families involved” KNCSB’s Executive Director, Robert Mills said.

“I’m not really sure that’d be the only way we could attract business to the community because we’d increase the sale of alcohol.”

Mills said he’s seen the impacts expanded alcohol use can have on families.

“One of the reasons that I wouldn’t be in favor of increasing the amount of alcohol is what it can mean to the lives of people and families who have loved ones are lost or died because of an alcohol related incident and that’s the abuse of it,” he said.

“I’m dealing with families and lives that need to be put back together because of the abuse of it therefore that’s the caution I give just to be careful about extending alcohol than it already is.”

Mills said he does not judge those who choose to drink alcohol but thinks voters should consider the effects changing the law could have on all people.

“The abuse of alcohol is what I’m pretty adamantly opposed to, so how do you control that? it’s up to the individual to control the consumption because if they don’t they put their lives at risk and somebody else’s life at risk,” he said.

“A caution of what it could mean to families here in Kansas and for individuals in Kansas that might be affected by an aggressive use of alcohol.”

The last time the exact question appeared on the ballot in Jackson County was in 1998 where it lost by 1,078 votes.

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