If it’s May in Minnesota, it’s time for the Legislature to kill Sunday liquor sales

REUTERS/John Sommers II
After nearly two hours of debate — which included discussions of consumer freedom, the societal costs of drinking and supporting local businesses — the amendment failed on a 56-70 vote.

On Thursday, state lawmakers upheld what’s become an annual tradition in St. Paul: Rejecting a move to lift Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor sales.

It happened this year like it almost always does. Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, brought a bill to the House floor to authorize a handful of local liquor licenses, leaving an opening for supporters to offer an amendment lifting the prohibition-era ban on selling booze at liquor retailers on Sundays. After nearly two hours of debate — which included discussions of consumer freedom, the societal costs of drinking and supporting local businesses — the amendment failed on a 56-70 vote. 

For Sunday sales supporters, it was the last hope that anything would pass this year. The proposal, which would allow local governments to choose whether liquor stores should be open on Sunday, didn’t get committee hearings in either the House or the Senate. And supporters in the Senate said there was no way they would move on the issue unless the House did. The floor vote was a last-ditch effort to try and mobilize a grassroots movement to change the law.

The situation at the 2016 session for Sunday sales advocates looked grim from the start, given the short, 10-week session and the major issues — bonding, transportation and taxes — consuming most of legislators’ time. Even before session started, the powerful lobbying arm opposing Sunday liquor sales predicted the issue would fail, especially since a lot had been done in 2015, including allowing Sunday growler sales and extending the hours establishments are allowed to start serving alcohol on a Sundays. 

Just before the House floor session, however, there was chatter among lobbyists and Capitol regulars that the vote would be close. Yet once the floor session began, the arguments followed familiar lines. One-by-one, House Democrats rose to oppose the proposal, arguing that adding another day of liquor sales would increase societal costs, things like recovery and addiction treatment, and damage from drunk driving accidents.

“The studies are quite conclusive, if you look across the country,” said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights. “In places where there is greater access, there are greater alcohol-related crimes.”

Others cited their support of their local liquor stores, many of which are members of a powerful lobbying organization, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA). The MLBA argues that Sunday liquor sales would simply spread six days of sales out over seven and require small retailers to hire more staff to cover the extra hours. That would eventually put them out of business, they say, because big box retailers could absorb that kind of cost.

“That seems to me like a big price for the sake of convenience,” Atkins, who is not returning to the Legislature next year, said. “I don’t think now is the time.”

Not all Democrats in the House were opposed. In all, 16 House DFLers offered their vote in favor of the bill, three more than voted to support Sunday sales as a floor amendment in 2015. “At the end of the day, for me this is about consumer choice,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester. “When I want to buy a bottle of wine on Sunday, don’t tell me, ‘Oh you should have bought it on Friday.’ This is America. People should be able to shop on the day they want to shop.”

Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, brought a bill to the House floor to authorize a handful of local liquor licenses, leaving an opening for supporters to offer an amendment lifting the prohibition-era ban on selling booze at liquor retailers on Sundays.

House Republicans were overwhelmingly supportive of Sunday liquor sales, with 40 total votes in favor. But with several lawmakers from both parties switching sides, the vote total ended up being not all that much different last year, when the amendment failed on a 57-75 vote.

GOP Rep. Tony Cornish was one of the flip votes, moving to support Sunday sales this year. Cornish said that in the past, he had let the arguments of just a few small business owners sway his opinion, when the vast majority of his constituents actually supported Sunday liquor sales. 

“I think the moral argument and the business argument and the law enforcement argument are archaic,” said Cornish, R-Vernon Center, a former peace officer. “When you vote green today, think, ‘Hey, Cornish voted green.’” 

Republican supporters of the bill made broad arguments of consumer and economic freedom. Behind the scenes, operatives suggested they hoped Sunday liquor sales would be a popular issue with the voters this fall. House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin voted in favor of the bill, with Peppin saying it’s “popular with millennials.”

“This is an issue of freedom, economic freedom, freedom for consumers,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who authored the amendment. “We are one of only a few states with a prohibition of off sale liquor on Sundays.”

After the vote failed, longtime Sunday liquor sales supporter Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, withdrew her own amendment to fully repeal the ban.

Without Sunday liquor sales attached, the omnibus liquor bill, which includes a liquor license for the yet-to-be-constructed St. Paul soccer stadium, passed with overwhelming support.

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/13/2016 - 11:04 am.

    Of course they did

    As Hiram would say, there are certain things you can just plan on happening . . . . .

  2. Submitted by Peter Shea on 05/13/2016 - 11:46 am.

    why limit this to just no sales on Sunday …

    Following the logic of the lobbyists, why not just restrict sales to a single day of the week so the business owners can only pay staff for 1 day in order to further maximize their profits?

    Seriously, no one is requiring the liquor stores to be open. If you don’t want to be open, fine, don’t. Seems to work fine for Chik-Fil-A … you choose and then let the consumers determine if they want to shop at your store or not.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/13/2016 - 12:54 pm.

    I think for the next session

    they should debate whether all government offices should be open on Sunday.

    Why aren’t they anyway?

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/13/2016 - 01:22 pm.

      Because

      The government is not a business and no one wants to pay for another day of government. AmIright?

    • Submitted by Thom Roethke on 05/13/2016 - 01:42 pm.

      They should be!

      It actually seems like a pretty progressive stance. Government offices should be open Thursday-Monday, when the most taxpayers are off of work. And elections should be on Saturday.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/13/2016 - 03:50 pm.

      Not a Bad Idea

      Increased accessibility to government services is a good thing.

  4. Submitted by Bill Spankerton on 05/13/2016 - 01:00 pm.

    Rite of Spring

    Another session, another disappointment.

    Thanks for the great reporting from the capitol as always. One suggestion: in articles about a specific bill, it’d be great to include (and link) the related House/Senate bill number. Always takes a little legwork for me to dig it up, and I am lazy.

    HF 3699:
    https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=House&f=HF3699&ssn=0&y=2016

  5. Submitted by THOMAS REYNOLDS on 05/14/2016 - 10:36 am.

    Sunday Blue Laws

    Sometimes change is hard for governments… these prohibitions on Sunday sales have no place in today’s society. The arguments just don’t hold water and the government should allow consumers to buy products when they want. It is also just as important that businesses should be able to be open when they want. Let the free market operate and if you don’t like big boxes… don’t shop there.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/15/2016 - 08:33 am.

    Sometimes change is hard for governments.

    That’s because we have a form of government that requires consensus. In this case, one of the parties needed to complete the consensus, the liquor store owners has opted out, effectively vetoing any legislative change.

    “The arguments just don’t hold water and the government should allow consumers to buy products when they want.”

    The liquor store owners want Sundays off. That argument holds water just fine.

    ” It is also just as important that businesses should be able to be open when they want.”

    Liquor store owners don’t want to open on Sunday.

    “Let the free market operate and if you don’t like big boxes… don’t shop there.”

    Even free markets can be closed. The stock market is closed on both Saturdays and Sundays. In terms of the way markets are free, liquor stores are open for more days and longer hours than the New York Stock Exchange.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/16/2016 - 11:11 am.

      “Even free markets can be closed.”

      The operative word here is “can.” You did not say “must.” If a business wants to close on Sunday, or Saturday, or any day of the week, it is free to do so, but no one is saying that it must.

      “The liquor store owners want Sundays off.” Then let them do so, if that is what they want. If they lose business to those who may remain open (none of them, by your reasoning, but I doubt it), that’s their tough luck.

      There is no reason for the borderline insanity that infects public policy in this state whenever alcohol is mentioned. Any number of specious arguments to justify limitations will be invented, but all of them come down to some residual puritanical disapproval of alcoholic beverages.

      One almost has to envy Utah in this regard. They have no qualms about basing their alcohol laws on a prohibitionist sentiment. No need for them to come up with some hopeless megillah about what liquor store owners ostensibly want, or pretending that this will cut back on DUIs. No, sir–gin is sin, case closed. I would find that level of candor refreshing as a nice Beefeater’s and tonic on a hot Sunday afternoon.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/16/2016 - 08:12 am.

    Change

    Sometimes change is hard for governments.

    I thought that was a really important thought which isn’t as widely understood as it should be. It has lots of implications. It is very difficult for government to change. Passing laws is much more difficult, much more time consuming than not passing laws. That is a very important reason to be very careful about the laws we enact, and also to make sure that as much as possible, they don’t require further action.

    Nancy Pelosi once famously obsserved that you don’t know what’s in a law until you pass it. That’s true of course but to me, one of the remarkable things about the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare is how self contained and self implementing it was. It’s drafters understood that their ability to pass the bill was the result of an electoral anomaly, unlikely to repeat itself in anyone’s life time. They knew there was little or no chance of ever being able to go back change or improve the bill. And for the most part, and despite those annoying errors that resulted in Supreme Court litigation, they were successful, a remarkably unheralded case of drafting triumph.

    Liquor store sales on Sunday are a much more trivial affair. Anybody who forgets to buy that bottle of vodka on Saturday that he needs to get through Sunday has bigger problems. But it does remind us that the work of legislating is not trivial, and that what our legislators do, can often be undone only with great difficulty, if at all.

  8. Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/16/2016 - 10:06 am.

    Sunday

    Can we please dispense with the nonsense argument that this has anything to do with needing to drink on Sunday? That this is only an issue for severe alcoholics? Anyone who needs a drink on Sunday can just go to a bar.

    I work all week and many Saturdays as well. Sunday is the day I do my weekly grocery shopping and run other errands. Its utter nonsense that I can’t buy liquor on Sunday as well.

    The idea that (some) liquor store owners not wanting to work Sunday is not a valid basis to bar everyone from doing it. An individual store can choose to be open or closed just like any other business (including stock exchanges) can.

    I know that Total Wine wants to open Sundays, and that’s where I shop now. It’s time to shun the mom and pop liquor stores if we want to get this fixed.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/16/2016 - 10:31 am.

    Its utter nonsense that I can’t buy liquor on Sunday as well.

    That’s from your perspective. But you aren’t in the liquor business. Those who are, want Sundays off.

    “The idea that (some) liquor store owners not wanting to work Sunday is not a valid basis to bar everyone from doing it.”

    Sure it is. You may not be persuaded, but other people are. It’s not a sufficient argument necessarily but it’s perfectly valid.

    “An individual store can choose to be open or closed just like any other business (including stock exchanges) can.”

    For whatever reason liquor stores have chosen to work together on this issue. That’s their choice to make.

    “I know that Total Wine wants to open Sundays, and that’s where I shop now.”

    I have no doubt that some liquor store owners want to do business on Sunday, just as I am sure some Chik Fil A stores do. If those people want to work on Sundays, they always have the choice of finding another occupation.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/16/2016 - 05:28 pm.

      Sundays

      Not sure why you are bringing up Chik-fil-a in an argument against Sunday Sales. Chik-fil-a just doesn’t open Sunday – it doesn’t insist that other restaurants close on Sunday too.

      A better analogy is gay marriage – it wasn’t enough for gay marriage opponents to just not have gay marriages. They wanted everyone to not have them. Liquor store owners who want a day off should take one and not make everyone take one.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 05/19/2016 - 12:40 pm.

      Sunday Sales

      If stores want to remain closed on Sunday then…they can. Repealing this outdated law won’t force even a single store to open their doors on Sunday if they choose not to.

      To be more accurate, -some- liquor stores have chosen to work together on this issue–certainly not all maintain the same position.

      At the end of the day, the government should be responsive to the wishes of the people, not the wishes of corporations or partnerships or LLCs.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/20/2016 - 06:36 am.

        To be more accurate, -some- liquor stores have chosen to work together on this issue–certainly not all maintain the same position.

        I own shares in some companies. I don’t always agree with the policies of the management of the companies I own, but as a shareholder, I am bound by management’s policies nonetheless. If liquor store owners disagree with the policies advocated by their lobbyists in St. Paul, they do have the option of hiring a different set of lobbyists.

        “At the end of the day, the government should be responsive to the wishes of the people, not the wishes of corporations or partnerships or LLCs.”

        All sorts of people wish all sorts of different things. Liquor store owners, who are mostly people, want Sundays off, and that matters to them quite a bit. Other people want liquor stores to be open on Sunday, but they don’t really care very much either way. That’s what we have a legislative process to resolve.

  10. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/16/2016 - 08:12 pm.

    Suprise!

    I wonder if anyone noticed that Democrats were the ones who killed the bill which is amazing because you would expect Republicans to stick to their outdated beliefs about Sundays and impose things on people and Democrats to promote freedom to buy things any time…

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/17/2016 - 08:17 am.

      It was`

      an equal opportunity failure. By the way, there were a lot of politics behind the scene. My representative, who voted against it, would have voted for at least 2 other amendments that never made it to the bill. One would have repealed all the remaining blue laws, including Sunday liquor and car sales. The other would have simply opened up liquor sales on Sunday. This one only opened up the ability of municipalities to decide, which would likely only have resulted in liquor sales on major border towns (not sure I agree with that assessment). Further, he indicated that, even if it had passed, it wasn’t going to pass the Senate (party leaders told them not to bother), so the political decision was to kill it. I appreciated understanding the politics, but I am still miffed about it. I agree that Loon’s amendment would provide little benefit, BUT…it’s a step in the right direction. In any case, it appears that there are many things going on behind the scenes, on all sides of the aisle–left, right, up, and down–on this topic. All of those things strike me as ridiculous.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/17/2016 - 11:53 am.

        One of my principal complaints about politics is that it is way too political. I have a good friend who serves in the legislature who often tries to explain the ins and outs of legislative politics but he has learned to stop when he sees my eyes glaze over knowing the next the stage is a collapse into a stupor. The thing to know about internal legislative politics is while it may loom large in the eyes of an individual legislator, it is completely irrelevant to a voter. If your legislator isn’t delivering to your satisfaction on the issues most important to you, don’t quibble, just vote him out. Never underestimate the clarifying power of elections.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/17/2016 - 06:09 am.

    “I wonder if anyone noticed that Democrats were the ones who killed the bill which is amazing because you would expect Republicans to stick to their outdated beliefs about Sundays and impose things on people and Democrats to promote freedom to buy things any time.”

    Both Democrats and Republicans voted to keep liquor stores closed on Sunday. And Democrats enjoy Sundays off just as much as Republicans. Republicans are in the majority in the House and nothing happens there without Republican approval or at least acquiescence. Republicans seem to want to make it a partisan issue, but without a unified voting record, that’s more difficult.

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