Call it progress?
Supporters of a perennial effort to lift Minnesota’s 80-year-old ban on Sunday liquor sales again saw their hopes dashed in a vote on the Senate floor Thursday, when an amendment to lift the restriction failed to get added to a broader liquor bill.
But the effort garnered more debate and votes than it has ever before — while it failed on a 35-to-28 vote, just year ago the same vote was 44 to 22. The provision needed just six more votes to pass.
And there was some movement for Sunday drinkers in the broader “omnibus” liquor bill, supporters say, which easily cleared the full Senate. Among other things, it allows bars and restaurants to start serving liquor at 8 a.m., instead of current restrictions that require them to wait until 10 a.m. It also allows craft breweries to sell growlers — 64 oz. jugs of beer — on Sundays. The growler sales piece only moved forward after the union Teamsters Joint Council 32 lifted its opposition.
“This is coming,” Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said on the floor Thursday. “We see this come up every year. … it would be nice to put this behind us and move on to more important things.”
Change called inevitable
It was a common theme in the Senate debate: Many lawmakers said the change is inevitable. Polling shows broad public support for buying liquor on Sundays, but a powerful coalition of small liquor store owners, the Teamsters and municipal liquor stores join forces each year to quash attempts. The public face of the coalition is the mom and pop liquor stores that make up the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA), some in just about every legislative district, who say the change will only spread six days of profits over seven days and benefit big liquor retailers.
It’s an issue that doesn’t cut cleanly down party lines. It divides the religious right, which wants to limit the amount of alcohol consumption in the state, and Libertarian wings of the Republican Party, who say it’s about personal choice and freedom.
“This is not an ordinary product. We are not talking about paper clips or toothpicks or your average consumption of food,” Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, who voted against lifting the ban, said. “Liquor is a product that, not handled responsibly, can cause great trouble for an individual or for a family. Minnesota has had it right for quite some time.”
It also causes splits between rural Democrats and those who live in border communities. Minnesota is one of only 12 states that do not allow Sunday liquor sales, and all of Minnesota’s surrounding states do. DFL Sen. Susan Kent, who lives in Woodbury near the Wisconsin border, offered the amendment to lift the ban. She was joined in support by other senators living in border communities.
“I look at the bridge in Winona and folks are leaving Minnesota and going to Wisconsin and buying their liquor or beverage of choice,” Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller said.
The author of the omnibus liquor bill, Sen James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, opposed the amendment and didn’t hold a hearing on Sunday liquor sales in the Senate Commerce Committee this session. “If there are seven liquor licenses in your town, and six are open, of course you’re going to have to be open,” Metzen said. “I don’t think that’s much of a choice.”
Next stop: The House floor
The next stop for the proposal is the House floor, where a similar amendment will likely be offered to the omnibus liquor bill. The last time the chamber voted on repealing the ban it failed 106-21, but supporters expect — as in the Senate — it will get more “yes” votes than ever before.
No matter what happens this session, supporters said they plan on coming back next year to try to lift the ban.
“It is a law that was founded in a past era, it’s kind of how the industry grew up and everything got entrenched and established the way it is,” Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “But things change quite a bit over time as well, and it’s important to respond to that.”