Criminals are one step closer to bartending
By John Sharp
Although I hoped I would not have to be reporting this, convicted murderers, kidnappers, forcible rapists and child molesters as well as persons adjudicated as persistent or predatory sexual offenders are now one step closer to being able to serve as bartenders and mix, serve and sell alcoholic beverages in KCMO.
Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner and several other Councilmembers Thursday, September 13, introduced ordinance 180716 to abolish mandatory criminal background checks and the requirement that persons directly involved in mixing, serving or selling alcoholic beverages obtain an employee liquor permit from the city.
The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing at 10 a.m. Wednesday, September 19, before the City Council Neighborhoods & Public Safety Committee in the Council Chambers on the 26th floor of City Hall.
Eliminating employee liquor permits and their accompanying criminal background checks is strongly opposed by the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) and all three major neighborhood umbrella groups in south Kansas City – the Center Planning & Development Council, the South Kansas City Alliance and the Southern Communities Coalition.
The City Regulated Industries Division that oversees the sale of alcoholic beverages has recommended that this ordinance not be passed citing “tremendous public safety concerns”. Jim Ready, Division manager, repeatedly has emphasized he is particularly concerned about the possibility of sexual assaults if the proposed ordinance passes.
All four of our south Kansas City Councilmembers – Lee Barnes, Alissia Canady, Kevin McManus and Scott Taylor – as well as Councilwoman Katheryn Shields personally have told me they are opposed to this ordinance, but it will take at least two more Councilmembers to assure it doesn’t pass.
Abolishing employee liquor permits and their required background checks has long been a goal of some bar owners, and this ordinance has been endorsed by the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association which represents many restaurant-bars.
A letter on behalf of the Association to the City Alcoholic Beverage Advisory Group said, “Forcing employees to pay for these cards and employers to keep track of a largely transient employee base is extremely difficult and time consuming.”
It is disappointing to me that Association spokesmen appear to place a higher value on eliminating the hassle of paperwork than on protecting the safety of their patrons.
I had hoped more bar owners would recognize the value of the 50-state lifetime criminal background check that is covered by the $39 fee applicants are charged for a three-year employee liquor permit. This background check could save them from unknowingly hiring extremely violent and/or persistent sexual offenders that could pose a serious threat to not only their patrons, but also to their other employees and to the reputation of their establishments.
Much of the information used by some proponents of deregulating who mixes, serves and sells alcoholic beverages in KCMO is either completely untrue or totally misleading.
The Association letter said, “The liquor card program targets everyone with a felony conviction. This includes people with relatively minor convictions seeking a second chance.” This is flat out not true, although it was true until just a few years ago.
Under an ordinance that was approved which I sponsored when I was on the City Council, the vast majority of ex-offenders were allowed to immediately obtain employee liquor permits. Only the worst of the worst such as murderers and forcible rapists and those most likely to re-offend such as persistent and predatory sexual offenders were banned for life.
Persons convicted of selling or intending to distribute illegal drugs or controlled substances were required to have three years good time from their conviction or release, which ever was later, before obtaining a permit. Persons convicted of committing a felony against a person such as armed robbery or aggravated assault with intent to do great bodily harm were required to have five years good time.
Proponents also have argued that cities on the Kansas side of the metropolitan area don’t require employee liquor permits like KCMO and Independence, and they don’t seem to have had problems with ex-felons who are employees harming patrons or other employees. This is true but totally misleading.
Kansas state law forbids persons ever convicted of any felony from dispensing, mixing or serving alcoholic beverages by the drink or from working in any retail establishment that sells package liquor. Missouri has no similar laws.
Persons concerned about the adverse public safety repercussions of passing this proposed ordinance which I consider to be irresponsible and reckless should call the City Council office at 816-513-6501, give their name and address, and ask all Councilmembers to keep employee liquor permits and background checks for persons mixing, serving or selling alcoholic beverages by the drink.
If passage of this foolhardy proposal is blocked, the City Council can then consider more prudent revisions to the city’s employee liquor permit system that would not pose the same risk to public safety.
Ready does support eliminating the permits for persons directly participating in only the package sale of alcoholic beverages such as convenience store, grocery and liquor store clerks and for sales clerks and cashiers who only take orders for alcoholic beverages or accept payments for them in establishments serving liquor by the drink. He also supports other relatively minor revisions to the permit system such as allowing persons to obtain a permit without having to wait two years from when their alcoholic beverage license or permit was revoked by another jurisdiction.