The Kansas State Fair board this week approved the fair manager continuing to pursue draft legislation that would allow alcohol sales on the fairgrounds outside of designated wine or beer gardens.
The proposed changes to current law — which grants exemptions to where consumption of alcohol is prohibited by the state — would also transfer the majority of alcohol taxes collected on the sales to go into the state fair’s capital improvement fund.
State Fair general manager Robin Jennison said they received assistance from the Reviser of Statutes office at the Capitol in drafting the changes, which add about a half-dozen paragraphs to the existing law and delete one.
Currently, alcohol is allowed only in the grandstands and designated enclosed areas within the fairgrounds.
“This doesn’t say ‘Yes this will happen,’ but it does say the Fair Board can decide if they want to expand it to common consumption areas,” Jennison said. “We can set the borders.”
“I don’t know that it’s totally perfect,” Jennison said of the draft bill, “but it’s close to what we asked for.”
The language requires areas to be posted — whether with signs or on a map — which means the fair can still prohibit consumption in certain areas, such as near youth-focused venues.
Jennison said he planned to take the draft to vendors for their input before asking a lawmaker to introduce it during the next session.
“One thing we have to figure out is how to deal with it if there are violations,” Jennison said. “If there’s a violation, all concessionaries are liable for it. If someone goes in the beer garden, orders a beer, takes it out and gives it to an 18-year-old, the wine garden is just as liable as the beer garden. But we’ll figure something out.”
That might include something like issuing wrist bands connected with the sale, and anyone without a wrist band violates the law.
“I don’t think we want people being allowed to carry beer cans around the fairgrounds, either,” Jennison said. “That’s a bad look too.”
As drafted, the bill would allow consumption in common areas all year, not just during the fair, though any sales require a temporary permit issued by the division of Alcohol Beverage Control.
The bill allocates 16.154% of taxes collected on alcohol sales to go to the state general fund, with the remainder credited to the state fair’s capital improvements fund.
“We want to treat it like the sales tax (collected on sales at the fair),” Jennison said, which the Legislature last session allowed the fair to keep, replacing an annual $300,000 allocation the Legislature was supposed to make to the fair, but which it stopped paying more than a decade ago.
Jennison said he believed the alcohol tax should have been included in the sales tax bill approved last session, but that it was overlooked.
The provisions for allocation of the alcohol taxes would “expire,” the bill states, “if the state fair is located outside the city limits of the city of Hutchinson.”
During the board’s meeting in October, when it approved Jennison pursuing a draft bill, the board was divided over whether to allow alcohol consumption in common areas outside of beer or wine gardens. On Tuesday, no one voiced opposition to Jennison taking the next steps in pursuing the change.
The board is expected to take up the issue again at its January meeting, to formally vote on whether to seek to introduce the legislation.