TOPEKA — An industry-backed bill allowing restaurants to serve alcohol in the early morning passed the Kansas House on Monday and became one of the first few pieces of legislation the chamber has passed so far this year.
It passed a first-round House vote last week and won support on a 75-47 final vote Monday. It still requires Senate approval.
Under the bill, restaurants could start serving alcohol at 6 a.m. Current law doesn’t allow liquor service until 9 a.m. Last call would remain the same because restaurants and bars would have to stop serving at 2 a.m.
Supporters argue the bill brings Kansas in line with surrounding states and allows restaurants to serve patrons hoping to order cocktails with breakfast or brunch.
“My district is along the state line, and we’ve got a lot of people that go from Kansas over to Missouri for brunch, and I’d like to keep that business in Kansas,” said Rep. Sean Tarwater, a Stilwell Republican.
The bill faced no opposition in committee. Tarwater said some legislators had voiced concern about allowing people to drink when children are going to school.
“I would argue that there are more kids running around after 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” Tarwater said.
Moments earlier, House members gave their unanimous support on a final vote to “Caitlin’s law,” which enhances penalties for habitual drunk drivers who kill someone in a crash. The bill, which still requires Senate approval, was named for Caitlin Vogel, who was killed by a drunk driver in Stilwell in 2016.
Tarwater said Vogel lived in his district. Rep. Russ Jennings, a Lakin Republican, carried the bill on behalf of Vogel’s family, who testified at a committee hearing earlier this month.
“We have too many people out there that continue to drink and drive after they’ve had the first offense, especially,” Tarwater said. “In this particular case, the guy borrowed someone else’s car because he couldn’t start his because of his interlock device, and so those kinds of people that are repeat offenders need to be off the streets for as long as possible and it’s the best way I can think to do it.”
Rep. Ponka-We Victors, a Wichita Democrat, spoke on the House floor in support of the bill. She said her godson was killed in a drunk driving crash last year.
“As legislators it is our duty to create laws that hold people accountable, not only for their actions, but for their actions that affect others’ lives,” Victors said.
James McAllister, the driver who killed Caitlin, would have been sentenced for twice as long had the bill been in effect, Jennings said.
Legislators also endorsed a bill naming the fourth Saturday in July the national day of the cowboy in Kansas. One member yelled, “Yee-haw,” as House Speaker Ron Ryckman lowered the gavel and declared the bill passed.