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Liquor law proposal worries local businesses

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MOORE, Okla. - It's taken Bryan Kerr a decade to build what he has now.

Moore Liquor is a testament to the work he's put in, and he said every bottle on his shelf means something to him.

"I've spent money on everything in here," said Kerr, who is also president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma. "A clerk at Walmart or the guy at 7-Eleven, they aren't his products, so he isn't as concerned."

But, Kerr is concerned with a proposed law written by Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond), which would change the state's liquor laws, opening the doors at the supermarket to wines and single-strength beer among other things.

"Oklahoma consumers are demanding changes in the alcohol laws," Jolley said. "[Smaller stores say] you're not going to have a reason to go to their liquor store any more, and it's going to be more convenient. And, that's what consumers are demanding."

The bill, which would require a vote of the people to become law, also suggests prohibiting what's called "common ownership."

In other words, a single company could not manufacture, wholesale and retail its products - something that has caught the attention of Anheuser-Busch, now one of the bill's most vocal opponents.

In addition to a social media campaign singling out Sen. Jolley with a Twitter hashtag, the company took out a full-page ad in The Oklahoman and plans to run ads on TV and radio stations.

Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser, said passing the bill would eliminate jobs, raise prices and could force the company out of the state.

"The reason why this is important is it limits anti-competitive behavior," Jolley said. "If you have someone who is a manufacturer or brewer as well as the distributor of their product, they really have an unfair competitive advantage and are able to price their products lower and still undercut others that are still in the market."

A spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch tells NewsChannel 4 the bill effectively legislates the company out of the state. Because it already manufactures the beer, it would have to sell off its other operations in the state, within five years.

The Retail Liquor Association said it didn't intentionally align with Anheuser-Busch, noting it's against the bill for different reasons.

Kerr estimates half of the state's retail package stores could wither if it's passed.

"Putting another 4,000 outlets that sell wine and strong beer up against the 700 outlets that currently sell wine and strong beer dilutes the market," he said. "Yes, we're very concerned from an economic standpoint that it would put about half the retail package stores out of business very quickly and, of course, those of us that did survive are going to survive on less."

Kerr also said public safety could be compromised if the bill is passed, because it would make stronger alcohol more accessible to the public.

In local liquor stores, he said, the owners are more protective of their product and more wary of selling to under-age buyers.

Additionally, Kerr said liquor store clerks are required to be older than supermarket clerks and the penalties for under-age sales are stricter.

The Retail Liquor Association said the laws need to be changed, but Jolley's bill is not the way to do it.

"The people who own retail and package stores are scared, because those who aren't being threatened to be completely put out of business are being threatened to have to get rid of employees that have worked for them for a long time," Kerr said. "There's a lot of fear among retail and package stores that all of this money is going to move from the local economy and their pockets and their employers' pockets and move into Walmart and then go right out of the state."

The bill has passed out of committee and will be considered on the senate floor.

If passed, the question will be put to voters on the November ballot.