Well, it was close. Or at least closer.
On Tuesday afternoon, House lawmakers voted 75-57 to kill an amendment to a broader liquor bill that would have allowed local governments to chose whether their stores could sell beer on Sundays. Minnesota is one of just 12 states that have the ban, and no states on the border prohibit liquor purchases on Sundays. Supporters say Minnesota is losing out on business every Sunday to states like Wisconsin.
“Eden prairie is different than Ely, we have different needs across the state, and all this does is says the local government is the body that should decide,” argued Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, the author of the amendment. “They are fully capable of making this decision, and if this is something your community wants, your local government should have the ability to make that choice.”
A second, similar amendment allowing municipalities to permit the off-sale of alcohol on Sundays from 11 a.m.–6 p.m. also failed, by a vote of 48-84.
A full repeal of Sunday liquor sales failed in the Senate earlier this session on a 35-28 vote, but supporters say there’s a reason for hope: Both votes were closer than ever before. In the Senate, the same vote last year failed on a 44-22 vote. The difference was even more dramatic in the House, where the last vote taken on the issue, in 2013, saw the measure defeated 106-21.
“It’s not if, it’s when, this change is coming,” Loon said. “I think you all recognize that.”
Repealing the ban is popular with the public, but it’s been repeatedly defeated at the Legislature. That’s thanks in large part to a powerful coalition of small liquor store owners — many of them members of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) — municipal liquor stores and the Teamsters union. The MLBA argues lifting the ban will favor big liquor retailers and hurt small shops, which would have to be open an extra day but wouldn’t bring in more revenue.
“To me, this looks like an all-out assault on mom and pop liquor shops,” said Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato.
It’s an issue that doesn’t cut cleanly along partisan lines, uniting the far left with Libertarian-leaning Republicans, who said the issue is about “free markets.” “Banning alcohol sales on Sundays, which our current law does, makes about as much sense as banning the sale of chickens on Mondays, gas on Tuesdays or shoes on Wednesdays,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.
The broader omnibus liquor bill does allow the sale of 64-oz. jugs of beer — also known as “growlers” — to be sold in craft breweries on Sundays and liquor to be served in bars and restaurants on Sundays starting at 8 a.m. (Current law allows liquor service starting at 10 a.m.) It passed easily on a 127-4 vote.
Dale Szyndrowski, vice president of Distilled Spirits Council, a national group that’s been pushing for the repeal and running ads in Minnesota, said they’ve made “incredible progress this session.” He added: “We look forward to pursuing this next session.”