KCMO Council reconsiders employee liquor permit process

Johanna Pounds
Northeast News editorial assistant

In 2015, 1st District Councilman Scott Wagner proposed a new ordinance trying to increase the availability of restaurant and bartending jobs for ex-convicts. Now he is proposing it again with Ordinance No. 180716, which would repeal the portion of the City’s liquor code relating to employee liquor permits.

The ordinance was discussed during the Wednesday, September 26 meeting of the Neighborhoods and Public Safety committee, where it was ultimately held until October 3.

The current law states that anyone who wants to be an employee at a business that serves liquor must acquire a liquor permit. There are several restrictions the current law holds. An ex-convict – with a criminal record ranging from drug charges with the intention to distribute to crimes like aggravated assault – has to wait three to five years to get a liquor permit. Anyone convicted of more extreme crimes such as sexual assault, murder, or pedophilia is completely banned from being able to get a permit, or serving alcohol.

Wagner believes this contradicts the Ban the Box measure, which was recently passed by the Kansas City, Missouri City Council. Ban the Box states that no employer can ask an employee if they are an ex-convict until they have been determined qualified for a position. He suggested that if the current permit laws stay, employers will then know if someone is an ex-con before the interview process is over, because they have already been rejected from getting a liquor permit. There is some concern, then, that the liquor permits undermine the intention of Ban the Box legislation by limiting the ability of an ex-offender to be in the field at which they most excel.

“The issue really is, do you want someone to have the best opportunity to make as much money as they can when they get released?” Wagner said.

After the September 26 meeting, committee chair Alissia Canady said that she plans to offer a committee substitute that would allow non-violent offenders to obtain liquor licenses, while also limiting the employee liquor permit requirements to bars, taverns, and alcohol delivery services. Canady’s hope is that the eight Council sponsors of the ordinance will be amenable to her proposed changes.

“If the concern is crimes against persons, let’s deal with crimes against persons; people who have a demonstrated history and have been convicted of crimes against persons, whether it be violent acts, sexual acts, murder, whatever,” Canady said.

Wagner’s changes have garnered support from several Kansas City organizations, including Northeast-based Healing House, which provides a safe place for all people recovering from addiction. In an interview with the Northeast News, the 1st District Councilman challenged those opposed to his ordinance changes to show him statistical evidence of bartenders committing crimes against patrons.

“Show me the numbers; there aren’t any,” Wagner said.

Although Kansas Law 41-2610 states that no ex-offenders can serve alcohol anywhere, no matter the crime, Wagner believes that Kansas is not looking at bartenders in the way that it is being construed by those opposing this ordinance.

“Kansas isn’t really ensuring offenders aren’t being hired, but what it is really ensuring is those who have served minors in the past are not being rehired,” Wagner said.

John Sharp, former 6th District Councilman and current representative for the South Kansas City Alliance, stands in opposition to the alterations being championed by Wagner.

“This campaign has been run on lies and miscommunication to the public,” Sharp said.

Sharp suggests that comparisons between Missouri and states like Kansas were purposely missing facts about the actual laws, and that the public “should be very suspect.” Sharp has received backing from several organizations, including Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA). MOCSA representatives have come out in opposition to the liquor permit ordinance, arguing that sexual offenders will only be tempted to re-offend if allowed to serve unknowing and trusting patrons. Sharp agrees.

“It’s as risky as hiring a pedophile in a daycare,” he said.

He believes that a lot of the support for passing this ordinance is coming from the Kansas City liquor industry, which in his eyes, is an industry already unable to regulate itself.

“When I was younger, I had a paper route, I would be out delivering papers at three a.m. and I would see these kids, these underage kids, stumbling out of bars unable to walk to their cars without assistance,” Sharp said. “The liquor industry does not care about these ex-cons, they care about the easy money they would be getting. It is short term greed, with long-term consequences.”

Sharp further argues that ex-cons have ample opportunity to work at other establishments, such as factory work or delivery work, so there is no need to put the general public in danger with repealing the current laws on liquor cards.

Wagner sees the issue differently.

“In the course of pushing that ‘public safety’ mission, you’re actually limiting ex-offenders from bettering themselves and their community,” Wagner said. “It’s easy to say there are plenty of other jobs for ex-offenders when you’re not an ex-offender looking for one.”

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