Advocates of legalizing Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota must — once again — turn their attention to the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Bills authored in the House and Senate to allow local governments to decide whether to allow liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sundays have had no hearings in committee and already missed two major deadlines. That means supporters of lifting the prohibition-era ban in the state will have to wage their effort on the floor, calling to amend a bill authorizing a handful of local liquor licenses to include the repeal. Senators have been reluctant to go the amendment route in the past, turning attention to the House.
It’s a strategy that has been used in the past and failed, and the situation is not totally unsurprising. While advocates of allowing Sunday liquor sales in the state have slowly convinced more legislators to support their cause than ever before, the short 2016 session is being consumed by other issues: namely taxes, bonding and transportation.
House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Chairman Joe Hoppe said there simply wasn’t time to hold a hearing on this issue this year, and he’d prefer if the amendment isn’t tacked on to the local liquor bill, which includes licenses for the yet-to-be constructed St. Paul soccer stadium and a license on the St. Cloud State University campus. Personally, Hoppe doesn’t support lifting the ban, but as chair of the main committee authorizing liquor bills, he knows it’s inevitable.
“Sunday sales is coming,” Hoppe, a Republican from Chaska, said. “It all changes as society changes and people want better craft beer options.”
Supporters have the option to amend the bill on the floor, Hoppe said, even though past efforts have failed. In 2013, the House voted down a Sunday sales amendment to an overall liquor bill by a vote of 21-106. The following year, the Senate rejected a similar motion 22-42. The votes were closer in 2015, with a Sunday sales amendment going down 28-35 in the Senate. In the House, a bill to allow local governments to decide whether to allow Sunday liquor sales went down on a 57-75 vote last year.
Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, who authored the bill to let local governments lift the Sunday sales bans, said there aren’t many conversations going on in the Senate about the issue. Both Kent and Hoppe acknowledge that if something passed in the House, there would be more pressure to do something in the Senate this year.
“Just like last year, we made our progress by way of amendment, and again much like last year, the big determining factor is if something is going to get heard in the House,” said Kent. “With this session, nobody really knows.”
A big reason attention has turned to the House is because of the chamber’s top leader, Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt. When he first came to the Legislature, Daudt opposed Sunday liquor sales, but now he’d like to see it pass.
“When I first got here [in 2011] I thought, ‘This isn’t the hill I’m going to die on.’ The only pressure we were receiving at the time was to leave it the way it was from the liquor stores,” Daudt said. “Since then, there has been a little more grassroots effort to change it. I find, like most people, I would like to have that option and right now we don’t.”
But Daudt isn’t organizing any efforts behind the scenes to get the initiative passed. The session is short and there are other big issues to be dealt with, so Sunday sales has been put “on the back burner,” he said. He also said the odd-numbered budgeting years are the time when larger liquor bills are usually passed.
The 2015 legislative session was mostly a victorious one for beer and liquor advocates, even if the ban wasn’t lifted. Legislators changed laws to make way for craft breweries and brewpubs to sell 64-ounce jugs of beer — better known as growlers — on Sundays, and they made it legal for bars and restaurants in Minnesota to serve alcohol starting at 8 a.m. on Sunday, two hours earlier than law previously allowed.
Next year, after a major election with all 201 legislator on the ballot this fall, most expect enough fresh faces at the Capitol will tip the issue over into passage. What’s more, many want the state to authorize Sunday liquor sales ahead of the 2018 Super Bowl in Minnesota.
“It will probably come up more next year. We did just vote on it last year, and it’s easier to do in a budget year in the longer session when we pass out a bigger liquor bill,” Daudt said. “If we do it this year, it will be a more organic, grassroots effort.”