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Sunday liquor sales, banned since statehood, inches forward in Minnesota

Members of the Minnesota House voted Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, to pass a bill allowing Sunday liquor sales. Maureen McMullen / Forum News Service
  1. PAUL -- Minnesota representatives lifted their glasses to Sunday liquor store sales, the first time either chamber of the state Legislature has approved removing a ban that dates back to statehood.

With an 85-45 Monday, Feb. 20 House vote, attention now turns to see whether senators also want to overturn the sales prohibition. House members voted 70-56 last year against dumping the law, giving supporters of the legislation hope because of the massive turnaround.

"Family life and consumers are a lot busier than they were years ago," bill author Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said. "The consumers of Minnesota have spoken."

Monday's vote was the first time the House has debated a full Sunday sales bill, although lawmakers have tried for years to amend other bills to allow liquor stores to be open Sundays.

The bill representatives backed allows liquor stores to be sell beer, liquor and wine 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, but bans alcoholic beverages from being delivered to the stores Sundays.

The debate took remarkably little time, 33 minutes, compared to other major bills the House considers.

Senate bill sponsor Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said he expects the vote, if his measure reaches the full Senate, to be close. "I'm hopeful that this is the year we finally get it done."

A Senate committee is to consider the bill Wednesday.

Some opposition to Sunday sales disappeared this year after House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, flipped from opposing to supporting the change. With that and polls showing Minnesotans want the stores to be open, the possibility of dumping the sales ban has gained steam.

However, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association executive director said the group will continue to fight the legislation.

"Today’s vote is one step in a long legislative process," Tony Chesak said. "Our organization will continue to educate legislators and the public that authorizing Sunday sales will raise costs for small, family-owned businesses and consumers."

The Distilled Spirits Council, on the other hand, toasted the vote.

"Minnesota consumers have galvanized around this issue because a ban on Sunday alcohol sales is such an antiquated concept," council Vice President Dale Szyndrowski said.

Sunday sales supporters say many Minnesotans drive across the border to other states and Canada on Sundays, costing state liquor stores profits and governments tax money. On Sundays, vehicles with Minnesota license plates often clog liquor store parking lots in places like Hudson, Wis., just across the river from the Twin Cities.

Opponents of Sunday sales mostly said they want the law to remain as it is because small stores would not experience a sales increase if they are open Sundays, but would have increased expenses for being open another day.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, asked his colleagues to think about children. "I think we need to be an example for our children that we can limit ourselves."

Rep. John Considine, D-Mankato, talked about small stores' future.

"I feel a duty to protect Minnesota businesses and small businesses," he said. "if we don't start protecting them, they will disappear."

While Loon said that many Minnesotans have no day other than Sunday to shop, Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, said that tourism is a seven-day business in his area.

"Our small businesses serve a large population of customers that are in our area throughout the weekend," Lueck said. "It is time we in St. Paul recognized that our business owners should have the option to be open for off-sales on Sundays, a latitude we already have provided to micro-breweries and wineries."

While not in Loon's bill, she said she will support an effort to divert taxes collected on Sunday liquor sales to help people with alcohol addiction problems. Loon said she would expect up to $15 million a year in new taxes if liquor stores open on Sundays.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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