Earlier this month, the Kansas State Fair board decided to take a big step: Pursuing open carry of beer on the grounds of the fair.
Right now, those who attend the yearly celebration of all things Kansas can only consume their malted beverages in such confined areas as beer gardens. Based on his recent experiences, State Fair general manager Robin Jennison is looking to change things up.
“I went to the Iowa State Fair where they can carry alcohol openly up there, and it makes for a great event,” he said, according to the Hutchinson News’ John Green.
There are complications to making the move. Current state law prohibits consumption of alcohol on public property without an exception. The exception held by the state fair allows beer only in the aforementioned confined areas.
This seems like a straightforward decision for legislators this coming session, and it makes sense for them to have a healthy debate and then move the policy forward.
Jennison addressed the two biggest concerns about the change head on, and his answers made good sense. First off, worries about people walking around drunk are misplaced, he said. If anything, confining beer consumption to tents encourages fairgoers to pound down drinks. Allowing them to wander and nurse a beer could actually reduce inebriation.
Secondly, the family atmosphere of the fair would be enhanced rather than reduced. Why? Parents wouldn’t be trying to cram in time to spend in the beer tent. They could simply get a drink and then enjoy the entire fair with their families.
As with any policy change, we might expect that a handful of people attempt to bend these rules, take advantage of them, or otherwise make a nuisance of themselves. Fair security — and those serving alcoholic beverages — should be ready to tackle these challenges head on, or any policy change would be a short-lived one.
There were also concerns voiced at the fair board meeting about alcohol being present at youth events, and about who would get the opportunity to sell. These are worthwhile concerns, and ones that draft legislation — and the Legislature itself — can address.
But ultimately, Jennison’s arguments make a great deal of sense. The experiences of Iowa and other state fairs that do the same (including ones in Oklahoma, Texas and Florida) suggest that fairs and fairgoers benefit.
The board is right to pursue the change, and legislators should give the proposal a full and fair hearing next year.