Senate votes to end ban on Sunday liquor sales

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Highlights:

  • The Minnesota Senate passed a repeal of the ban on Sunday alcohol sales.
  • Now lawmakers must reconcile the differences in the two bills, the biggest one is the hours stores can operate on Sunday.

  • If the House and Senate find a compromise Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the repeal.

  • Liquor stores could begin Sunday sales in July once repeal signed by Dayton. 

Minnesota’s 159-year-old ban on Sunday liquor sales is headed for repeal, but not before the debate among lawmakers ferments a little bit longer.

 The Minnesota Senate voted 38-28 Monday to end the prohibition on Sunday liquor store sales, following in the footsteps of the House, which passed a similar repeal last week with an 85-45 vote. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign a repeal if it made it to his desk.

The easy victory in both chambers is a dramatic change from past years when Sunday sales bills couldn’t make it to the floor for a vote and efforts to tack the repeal onto other legislation as amendments was met with resounding rejections. But this year, repealing the Sunday sales ban seems to have an unstoppable momentum.

“I was confident we had the votes to pass the bill,” said Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, chief sponsor of the Senate measure. “This was a strong effort for the people by the people.”

However, the two bills have slight differences that will need to be worked out by a conference committee, unless senators are able to convince House members to accept their version. The Senate bill would allow liquor stores to be open Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. while the House version lets them open an hour earlier.

The later time made it into the Senate bill because opponents of repealing the ban, including Republican Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls who chairs the commerce committee it needed to clear to get to the Senate floor, wanted workers to have time on Sunday to spend with their families or to attend church.

Miller and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, the chief sponsor in the House, said they were working to determine the best path forward.

“On the one hand, I prefer my bill, but on the other hand…I want to just move on,” Loon said, noting that the work of crafting a new two-year budget lies ahead.

That means the ban on liquor stores selling alcohol on Sundays, in place since Minnesota became a state in 1858, appears to be almost over. If the repeal becomes law, liquor stores could begin to have Sunday hours in July.

There has been intense lobbying on whether lawmakers should allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays.

Since 2011, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., which represents major alcohol brands and supports the repeal, spent $710,000 in lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Municipal Beverage and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage associations, which oppose the repeal, spent $485,000.

The Teamsters union, a longtime opponent of Sunday sales, have spent $625,000 lobbying at the Capitol. Sunday liquor deliveries, a key concern of the Teamsters, is not allowed in either bill.

Before the Senate vote, opponents of the repeal renewed their arguments that allowing Sunday sales would hurt the roughly 1,000 independently operated liquor stores around the state. They fear small business owners will have to be open an extra day to remain competitive with chain stores, but they will not get the additional sales needed to cover the costs.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, the minority leader, painted a grim picture of how big box chain retailers have decimated small town businesses. Allowing Sunday sales will only make that trend worse, Bakk said, before he proposed an amendment that would allow grocery stores in the Twin Cities to sell wine seven days a week.

“The little mom and pops are going to be gone anyway,” Bakk said. “They are not going to survive this. The big boxes are going to take it all.”

Bakk withdrew his amendment before joining a dozen other Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members in opposition of the bill.

In the final vote tally, 19 Republicans and 19 Democrats, primarily from in and around the Twin Cities metro, came together to pass the repeal. Fifteen Republicans voted against it.

Supporters said their constituents had become increasingly vocal about the need to repeal the ban and that government had no right telling businesses what days they could operate.

The Sunday sales vote couldn’t have come at a better time for lawmakers, many of whom want to put the issue behind them. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said with the latest state economic forecast due Tuesday it was time to focus on crafting a budget and other important issues.“It’s past time,” said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester. “I believe it is an issue of freedom.”

“If it passes, I’m rolling up my sleeves and working on all those other things and I’m not looking back,” Gazelka said before the vote Monday. “If it fails, don’t ask me to bring this up this year or next year, maybe the year after that we’ll talk about it when we have a new House.”

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Posted in Alcohol.