House breaks with Senate on alcohol bill, Capitol stays ‘dry’

TOPEKA – The Kansas House has decided that the Capitol will stay “dry,” at least for now.

Hours after the Senate approved a measure to allow alcohol under the dome under certain circumstances, the House sent the bill back to a committee for a rework.

The provision, part of Senate Substitute for House Bill 2199, was proposed to allow drinking in the Capitol during official functions, such as a planned party to celebrate completion of the renovation of the Capitol building.

But the House sent it back to a conference committee of Representatives and Senators after a ruling that an unrelated part of bill dealing with home beer brewers had been improperly added to the catch-all measure.

The rules decision came after an impassioned plea on the floor by Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane.

DeGraaf railed against another part of the bill, which would allow automatic wine-dispensing machines to be used under limited circumstances at state-owned casinos.

“Why is that?” DeGraaf said. “Because we profit from state-owned casinos.”

Moments later, he asked “What’s next? Fountains with flowing alcohol where you can just go in and drink it?”

A number of House members applauded that suggestion.

The bill had appeared to have sufficient support to pass, after a procedural motion to send it back to committee failed 67-50.

Earlier Friday, the Senate voted in favor of the bill 29-10.

The only issue that got much attention there was the provision on drinking at the Capitol, which touched off a lengthy debate about the role of the Capitol in public life.

Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, said she feels that the Capitol belongs to the people and should be available for public events such as art openings and concerts, where it would be appropriate to have alcoholic beverages in a controlled environment.

“We’re not opening up the Statehouse so we can stash flasks in our desks,” she said.

Others, however, balked at the idea, saying that allowing alcohol would diminish the gravitas of the center of the state’s government.

“This building is dedicated to the people’s business,” said Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg. “It is not for rent, it is not for sale.”

Senate President Susan Wagle said the only event currently proposed to be alcohol-optional would be a celebration of completion of the long-running renovation of the Capitol.

She said she and Gov. Sam Brownback are hoping to use the rededication party as a fund-raiser to benefit a Kansas charity. “We want to open it (the Capitol) up and show it off,” she said.

The Capitol renovation project is in its final stages and expected to be completed this year.

The bill would allow alcohol to be served at Capitol events with the approval of the Legislative Coordinating Council, a group of House and Senate leaders.

The bill also would make several other changes in alcoholic beverage laws, primarily in allowing some liquor licensees to provide free samples or coupons for free drinks.

The bill will go to the House for final consideration.