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Michelle Dickey of Richmond traveled to Jefferson City Wednesday, Feb. 18 with her employers, John and Beth Letzig, to address the Committee on Local Government in an effort to present testimony to amend the law that states “convicted felons can not sell or serve packaged liquor.”
Dickey is an ex-offender and told the committee she experienced many difficulties just getting a job and finding an employer that would give her a chance after serving her sentence in prison.
The small delegation traveled in support of Rep. Bob Nance’s efforts to change a section of House Bill No. 159 relating to liquor licenses and employees that are involved in the sale of liquor.
John Letzig, owner of BP Amoco of Richmond, said, “We’re not changing the law. We’re just amending the law to take it case by case, where the state liquor and tobacco people have the control and it’s not just a blanket law. The way it’s written now, there’s no consideration for anyone. Parole and probation people have contacted us with names of ex-offenders that need a chance, but the way it is now I can’t promote an employee above being in the store alone. These people know these ex-offenders and which ones can be trusted. We’re just seeking to amend the law to put the control back in the hands of the state alcohol and tobacco people.”
Nance said, “I am for giving a person a second chance under certain conditions. I learned of Michelle’s predicament while walking doors during the election.” The encounter resulted in Dickey’s invitation to speak before the committee.
Dickey was forthright in her testimony, sharing her difficulties in securing a job after prison, and then the limitations placed upon her once she was given the opportunity to prove herself.
“Employers were not allowed to give me positions of employment that they could give others who were not restricted by rules governing and limiting the responsibilities of ex-offenders,” she said. “For five weeks I walked four miles round trip…pleading to businesses to give me a chance…Finally, I applied at BP Amoco (in Richmond). I was honest with them, and they gave me a chance to prove myself.”
That was nearly four years ago, and recently Dickey faced a new hurdle. A management opportunity became available last year and she was considered for the position, but Letzig said he could not promote her based on the statute.
“I was told that if there would have been any way possible, they would have given me the management position, but that the law prevented them from putting an ex-offender in a position of responsibility which involved alcohol sales,” Dickey said.
“Liquor Control said they would change the law to be more favorable for those persons putting their life in order, but it must be changed in statute first,” Nance said. “When a person applies for a job, the potential employer learns of the offense. After employment, the employer comes to believe the person is trustworthy and deserves opportunity to assume more responsibility and yes, a pay raise would also be a part of the promotion. The employee can handle alcohol, but cannot directly participate in the retail sale. The conviction might have been for burglary, drug possession, or bad checks.”
Of course, Dickey was very disappointed. She said she spent that three years in complete abstinence, fully immersing herself in a 12-step, faith-based program that she says she applies in every facet of her life.
She went on to say that the opportunity would have allowed her to be more self-supporting and less dependent on social assistance, afford medications for her diabetes and for her children and dependent husband.
“The existing laws severely limit not only my own and other socially responsible ex-offenders, but also severely restricts legitimate employers and businesses who sincerely want to provide employment opportunities to deserving and responsible applicants,” she said.
The subsection currently reads: “No license issued under this chapter or chapter 312 RSMo, shall be denied, suspended, revoked or otherwise affected based solely on the fact that an employee of the licensee has been convicted of a felony unrelated to the manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquor.”
The proposed amendment would add “at any retail by-the-drink licensed establishment where less than 50 percent of the gross income is derived from the sale of prepared meals or food consumed on the premises” as the end of the above stated sentence.
The remainder of that subsection: “Each employer shall report the identity of any employee convicted of a felony to the division of liquor control. The division of liquor control shall promulgate rules to enforce the provisions of this subdivision” shall remain as written.
“Today, I feel I live by a different set of standards and base my life on a spiritual foundation. I try to be the best that I can be,” said Dickey. “The amendment of this law will help people better themselves and not be on public assistance.”
She stressed, “Make no mistake, this legislation is not about allowing any and all ex-offenders to be able to sell adult or alcoholic beverages. This legislation is about giving local authorities another tool in their arsenal for combating factors which contribute to low self-esteem, poverty and potential recidivism: factors which undermine many other positive programs, and contributions put in place to facilitate our being socially responsible and socially contributing adults. The local authorities would rely on their experience, and the responsible actions of the ex-offender being considered, for this extension of responsibility.”
Dickey said her “painful experiences and lessons learned” provide her with the “experience and qualifications” to say that “as an underage drinking teen, alcohol was a major factor” in her social regression. She began drinking at youth parties when she was just 11 years old.
“As an ex-offender who is so painfully aware of the results of underage drinking, I see someone like myself being extremely committed to ensuring that the age validation requirement and other alcoholic purchase laws are fulfilled for Each and Every sale. And, as much as I have tried to convince to you that I am not like the many other ex-offenders that have given you too many justifiable concerns, I can also tell you that I am not the only ex-offender who lives their life on a daily basis, one step, one breath, one prayer at a time, making myself be an aware, considerate, responsible and contributing member of our society.”
Photo: A small delegation from Richmond traveled to Jefferson City on Feb. 18 to address the Committee on Local Government about amending a liquor law to place its control back into the hand of the state alcohol and tobacco bureaus. Left to right: Beth Letzig, Michelle Dickey, Rep. Bob Nance and John Letzig. (photo submitted)