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Unusual voting 'coalitions' surface on House floor

Controversial legislation on the House floor Tuesday showcased the “unusual voting coalitions” that certain issues can create in the statehouse, regardless of the partisan maneuvering that makes budget negotiations seem never-ending.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a Minneapolis DFLer long known for proposing controversial legislation during her 40-year tenure at the Capitol, was at the center of one such odd bloc for an amendment to the House omnibus alcohol bill that would allow liquor stores to stay open on Sunday.

The ensuing debate prompted GOP Rep. Sarah Anderson to tweet: “Want to hear a lot of different members speak on the floor and see unusual voting coalitions … talk about liquor sales on Sundays.”

Kahn teamed up with GOP Rep. Steve Drazkowski to bring forward the Sunday-sales amendment, which gained support from the likes of freshman Republican John Kriesel and libertarian-leaning Republican Mark Buesgens.

“It can be pretty partisan down here,” said Kriesel of Cottage Grove. “It’s funny. It’s fun to be able to stand up and agree with Rep. Kahn.”

Kahn has proposed the same measure in recent years, and it’s been a high-profile issue this session. Likewise, a swath of Democrats and Republicans who opposed opening the floodgates in the past renewed their concerns on the House floor.

To some, it just seemed repetitive.

“Here we go again,” GOP Rep. Greg Davids said, who recounted a story about a pig that just wouldn’t die.

“Members, let’s put this amendment out of its misery,” he said. “Let’s shoot it — not the author — but the amendment. Let’s shoot it.”

Kahn called prohibiting alcohol sales on Sunday a “most outrageous restriction,” and the arguments mimicked past debates:

Pro
• Because 35 states — including those that border Minnesota — allow alcohol sales on Sundays, Minnesotans are traveling out of the state to spend their money.

• The government shouldn’t be dictating when private businesses can sell their products to consumers.

• Because Minnesota is facing a $5 billion budget deficit, it’s important to find as much new revenue as possible.

Anti
• Most liquor stores oppose opening on Sundays, and removing the prohibition would hurt “mom and pop” stores who couldn’t afford to staff their businesses.

• People should be able to plan ahead when buying alcohol, so there shouldn’t be any need for liquor stores to be open on Sunday.

• Liquor store owners need a day off.

When it became clear the measure was unlikely to pass, Kahn tabled the amendment. But, she did win a small victory: Rep. Joe Hoppe, chairman of the House Commerce and Regulatory committee, said it would receive a full hearing next session.

The bill — sans the Kahn amendment — overwhelmingly passed with a number of high-profile provisions, including the so called “Surly bill” language that would allow the small brewery to sell pints of its own beer on premises.

Bong-water issue unites legislators,  too
Despite the initial setback, Kahn did manage to pass a different, and perhaps more far-reaching, bill Tuesday on the House floor.

Kahn’s legislation, also known as the “bong water” bill from last session, clears up the standards under which drug offenders can be charged based on the weight of an illegal substance suspended in the water used to filter it through a pipe.

A Rice County woman was charged for possession of 37 grams of methamphetamine, although the drug made up a small portion of the weight of the bong water that contained it.

The case ultimately came before the Minnesota Supreme Court, which upheld the prosecution’s argument charging the woman for the full weight of the water.

Kahn’s bill changing that standard overwhelmingly passed last session, but it was vetoed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“I was pretty irritated by the veto, which just didn’t make any sense,” Kahn said. “[The issue] has gotten much more attention that it deserves.”

This year’s legislation — co-sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish, chairman of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee — enjoyed near-unanimous success on the floor.

Again, Kriesel said, it just goes to show: There are just some things people from all sides can rally around.

“It’s kind of a quirky little law. We all know what drugs are, and I don’t think residue in water can be considered a drug,” Kriesel said. “We disagree on a lot, but there are some things we agree on, and it’s enjoyable to find those things.”

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Comments (1)

Who is taking these two arguments seriously?
• People should be able to plan ahead when buying alcohol, so there shouldn’t be any need for liquor stores to be open on Sunday.
Since when is it government's job to make that kind of decision? Every Minnesotan I know has had that moment of dawning-"OMG it's Sunday, we can't get beers for the grill out"-comprehension at least seventeen times.

• Liquor store owners need a day off.
By this logic everything should be closed on Sunday so everyone can get a day off. Fortunately, modern employment technology allows someone other than the owner to work.