Denise Selbee-Koch's small Topeka business focuses on empowering women.
She can’t get a liquor license because of her husband.
Kansas law forbids the spouse of a law enforcement officer from selling liquor, a relic of the state’s prohibition past. Selbee-Koch, who is married to the police chief in Valley Falls, wants to change that.
She co-owns Dirty Girl Adventures with Jennifer Woerner. The organization specializes in guided outdoors adventure that is accessible for all ages and fitness levels. The goal is to encourage women to get outside.
The six-year-old venture led to the opening of a retail location in January 2019 in the North Topeka arts and entertainment district. The store sells outdoor goods, hosts health and wellness classes, organizes activities on the nearby Kansas River, and is a venue for live music.
Diversification, she said, is key for helping small businesses thrive.
"A large number of our clientele are middle-aged women,“ Selbee-Koch said. ”They like to drink wine. We can't serve wine."
She testified Tuesday in a legislative hearing on a proposal that would remove the restriction for spouses of law enforcement officers to obtain a license for a drinking establishment under certain conditions. The officer’s jurisdiction would have to be in another county.
Selbee-Koch said she was frustrated when she learned of the restriction after filling out her application. The paperwork asks for spouse information.
"My first thought was, ’Wow, we're going to get extra credit points because we're super ethical and we're on the side of the law,’ but no,“ she said.
Selbee-Koch said her husband of 33 years has no more influence in the community than she has. She questioned the purpose of the restriction.
Rep. John Barker, a Republican from Abilene and retired judge, said the restriction is a holdover from an era where Kansas had pockets of dry communities, especially in rural areas.
“The concern was to keep law enforcement above reproach,” Barker said.
Debbi Beavers, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Kansas Department of Revenue, said the "there was a lot of protection from law enforcement officers of certain establishments“ when alcohol was prohibited. The agency has no current concerns on the matter, she said.
Nobody opposed the change in legislation.
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee also heard testimony about legislation that would allow distilleries to open a tasting room or other retail location for their product.
The proposal is tailored to benefit Midwest Grain Products in Atchison, which wants to sell liquor at a restaurant along the Missouri River. Current law prevents manufacturers from selling by the drink, with exceptions for microbreweries and farm wineries.
Joe Warren, director of administration services for Atchison, said the restriction in current law places the border town at a disadvantage. About 20 miles down the river in Weston, Mo., the McCormick Distillery offers a tasting room and retail shop. The attraction drives tourism and recreational spending from the surrounding area, Warren said.
An MGP tasting room and restaurant would complement Amelia Earhart and other Atchison attractions.
“Since MGP has started crafting its own brands, there is significant demand for their products throughout the region, and their quality offerings are generating tremendous buzz throughout the industry,” Warren said.
Proposed legislation crafted by Atchison Republican Rep. John Eplee would allow manufacturers to obtain a single license for a drinking establishment. The establishment would have to be within 1.2 miles of where the liquor is manufactured but not on the same premises. Eplee said MGP is 1.1 miles away from the restaurant it wants to operate.
Beavers, the alcohol enforcement official, asked lawmakers to broaden the distance to accommodate other distilleries that may want to sell their product.