The politics of booze may not be of the greatest importance, but it does underscore how “the people’s business” is often conducted in state Capitol back rooms.
On Monday, a very brief Senate Tax Committee meeting stripped an omnibus liquor bill provision allowing Sunday growler sales.
Nixing the sale of growlers — refillable jugs used to transport beer from Minnesota taprooms — was the final step in killing efforts to expand Sunday alcohol sales.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, had led the fight to allow Minnesotans to choose going to a liquor store, or at least a taproom, to make a Sunday purchase. Reinert started the session hoping for across-the-board Sunday liquor sales. By this point in the session, he was down to the growlers, which are sold out of those little breweries popping up all over the state.
Reinert has been opposed by members of his own party, who, with a few exceptions, act like Teamsters union puppets when this issue comes up.
The Teamsters worry growler sales will re-open contracts with other liquor establishments. Though union officials did not return requests for comment Tuesday, they annually tag team with the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association — heavily influenced by little Main Street liquor stores — to block Sunday sales.
Tuesday, Republicans of the libertarian stripe had a field day with DFLers.
Sunday sales = higher property taxes?
Three GOP senators — Jeremy Miller, David Osmek, and Branden Petersen — offered a series of amendments to the growler-stripped bill.
First up was Miller, of Winona, who every Sunday sees people in his district go to Iowa or Wisconsin for liquor they can’t buy in Minnesota. He offered an amendment that would allow local officials to determine whether liquor stores could be open.
He took a nice jab at the DFLers’ Teamster-coddling — his amendment prohibited deliveries to liquor stores on Sundays. (Some pols believe Teamsters oppose Sunday openings because it might force weekend work.)
DFLers didn’t have enough class to blush at Miller’s subtle shot. Rather, a couple of them blustered.
For example, there was Sen. Rod Skoe of Clearbrook, the Tax Committee chair.
“If you look across the state,” Skoe said, “you see a lot of municipal liquor stores.”
Those stores, he said, help communities hold property taxes down — but if the stores were to stay up seven days a week, instead of six, they wouldn’t be so profitable, therefore property taxes might go up.
Skoe called for “a study” to see how Sunday sales would affect property taxes.
Sen. James Metzen, DFL, St. Paul, who carried the liquor bill, said that the Miller amendment should not be supported because it had not “been heard in committee.”
To his credit, Metzen managed to keep a straight face, even though it’s obvious that DFLers are concerned about “committee process” only when it’s to their benefit.
Miller’s amendment was voted down — in a bipartisan way, it should be noted. (A substantial number of conservative Republicans oppose Sunday liquor sales on moral/religious grounds.)
‘People should plan ahead’
Next up was Osmek, of Mound, who offered an amendment that would put the growler provision back in the liquor bill.
Again, Metzen rose.
“We have to respect the Tax Committee,” he said.
Other members in the Senate didn’t actually burst out in laughter. But Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, caused a few snickers, even among DFLers.
“The Tax Committee removed this provision in a meeting that lasted 4 minutes, 51 seconds yesterday (Monday) morning,” Thompson noted, adding that there had been very little advance notice of the committee meeting.
Skoe tried to act upset by Thompson’s statement.
“A hearing was held,” Skoe said of his meeting. “There was no testimony.”
Skoe followed that bizarre statement by digging himself into a hole. People shouldn’t need to buy liquor on Sundays, he said: “People should be able to plan just a little ahead.”
This was not a wise thing for a senator to say. It suggested that consumer planning — not Teamster or liquor store pressure — is the problem here.
Some Republicans were nearly foaming at the mouth to get at Skoe’s remark.
Petersen, of Andover, leaped up and offered an amendment to Osmek’s growler amendment. Petersen’s would eliminate the Sunday sales ban entirely.
“We have reached a level of absurdity here,” Petersen said, angrily. “The idea that Sen. Skoe knows better when people should go to the store to buy a legal product is an affront to anybody. … This bill recognizes people are responsible enough to decide when they’ll go to the store to buy a case of beer.”
DFL leaders didn’t just oppose Petersen’s amendment; some Republicans also expressed concern, too.
“I rise in opposition,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. “This bill goes too far, too fast.”
(Hmm. “Too far, too fast.” Efforts to open up liquor sales have been around for decades. Minnesota is one of 12 states that does NOT allow Sunday liquor sales. Polls show that more than 60 per cent of Minnesotans want Sunday sales.)
If some Republicans were concerned about opening liquor store doors on Sunday, others took great delight in making DFL leaders uncomfortable.
Miller asked his fellow Republican Petersen: “Senator, is there anything in your amendment that requires liquor stores to be open on Sunday?”
Petersen: “No. This amendment allows business people to go down the scary path of making their own decisions about how to run their business.”
There were a few chuckles in the Senate chamber.
The Petersen amendment was defeated. But it seemed to set the stage for the Osmek’s growler amendment, which passed. Sunday jug sales were alive and well again.
This caused more consternation among DFLers. After quick consultations with some of his fellow travelers, Metzen tabled the liquor bill that now sagged under the weight of the offending growler amendment.
Sports teams want a liquor bill
The reality is that a liquor bill needs to come out of this session. It contains a number of things sports teams want.
For example, during July’s Major League Baseball All Star game, Minneapolis bars want licenses that allow them to remain open until 4 a.m. This bill also expands sales at the University of Minnesota’s football stadium, which for the next two years hosts the Gophers and the Vikings.
So far, the House waited for the Senate to act.
But now the Senate is all twisted up. Before any new action can be taken, DFL senators have to figure out how to make both Teamsters and sports teams happy.