KCMO liquor permit decision delayed

By Johanna Pounds
Northeast News Editorial Assistant

The Kansas City, Missouri Neighborhoods and Public Safety committee entered its third week of discussion on proposed changes to the City’s liquor card permitting process on Wednesday, October 3, and the debate will continue for at least one more week.

Committee chair Alissia Canady proposed a committee substitute to Ordinance No. 180716 during the hearing that she believed represents a compromise for those concerned about potentially removing the liquor card process entirely.

“I am trying to offer a compromise for those who have expressed concern,” Canady said. “I want to be clear: this committee was considering removing liquor cards altogether.”

Canady’s proposed substitute would disband the three-year hold for non-violent offenders seeking a liquor card, allowing them to immediately obtain a permit upon release. The substitute also says that employees of gas stations, grocery stores, and large arenas will no longer be required to obtain liquor cards to work or volunteer. The committee substitute does, however, keep in place the current five-year hold on those who have committed violent crimes such as aggravated assault, along with a complete ban for those who have committed more extreme crimes such as sexual assault, rape, or child molestation.

The ultimate goal of the changes were summarized by 1st District Councilman and ordinance sponsor Scott Wagner, who pointed out that tens of thousands of Kansas City residents are required to invest time and money to acquire liquor cards, even though violent crimes are perpetrated by only a sliver of the population.

“There’s a specific kind of category of person that we want to be sure is not anywhere near alcohol, and I get that,” Wagner said. “What is the best way to make sure that you keep those individuals out of the business?”

Some members of the public who originally came out in opposition of the ordinance agreed that the changes proposed in the committee substitute were logical. Nancy Phelps, chairwoman for the Marlborough Community Coalition, was a strong voice against the original ordinance. On October 3, though, she expressed appreciation at the changes offered by Canady’s substitute.

“I appreciate that we are focusing on the sales by drink part of this conversation,” Phelps said.

Southern Communities Coalition chairwoman Carol McClure praised the committee for engaging in an extended conversation on the issue.

“I think it’s great that there is a lot of talk going on,” McClure said. “I appreciate this committee for all of the hearings that you’ve had.”

Victoria Pickering, the Director of Advocacy at the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA), asked the Council committee to maintain the protections that currently exist through the liquor card process in some form, while acknowledging that ex-convicts need steady work as part of the rehabilitation process.

“We know that alcohol is the number-one substance used in drug-facilitated sexual assaults. That’s not a perception, that’s reality,” Pickering said. “We recognize that our community having access to employment is a form of violence prevention in itself.”

Other public testimony in opposition to the committee substitute primarily suggested that the changes constrict the ability of an ex-convict to get a job as a bartender or server.

“My thoughts have changed through the course of this,” said Kevin Timmons, owner of Nick and Jake’s and president of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association. “I am less worried about a server at Ruby Tuesday’s than I am about the guest at the bar.”

Eric Wesson, the publisher of the Kansas City Call who runs a program and call service for ex-felons, agreed with Timmons.

“My concern is for this to open another avenue with which to discriminate people,” Wesson.

Wesson further worried that a lot of concerns surrounding this ordinance have been sensationalized and have not been looking at the actual facts.

“Are we going to regulate everything?” he wondered.

Third District councilman Quinton Lucas and 1st District councilwoman Heather Hall both asked for the ordinance to be held another week, as neither Council member felt they had enough time to look over the current committee substitute. The committee will meet again on October 17, where they will attempt to make a recommendation on the ordinance to the full City Council.

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