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Minnesota House approves Sunday liquor sales

The proposal passed 85-45. A vote in the full Senate is expected to be much closer.

Lifting Minnesota’s longstanding ban on Sunday alcohol sales passed with an overwhelming 85-45 vote.
Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services

Supporters of lifting Minnesota’s longstanding ban on Sunday alcohol sales were in high spirits Monday after the full House cast a historic vote in favor of repealing the restriction.

It’s the first time the proposal has cleared either chamber of the Minnesota Legislature, and it passed with an overwhelming 85-45 vote. That’s a big shift from one year ago, when the full House voted the proposal down on a 70-56 vote. The bill would allow liquor stores in Minnesota to be open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“The consumers of Minnesota have spoken,” Rep. Jenifer Loon, author of the proposal, said on the House floor, noting that Minnesota is one of just 12 states that restrict Sunday alcohol sales. All states bordering Minnesota allow Sunday alcohol sales. “They have spoken loudly and they have spoken over a long period of time that this is something they want to see.”

Supporters noted increased public pressure to lift the ban over the last several years, as well as increased involvement from a key figure: Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt. Daudt, who is weighing a run for governor, has been courting yes votes and even stacked the membership of a critical House committee to ensure its passage.

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“Passing Sunday Sales out of the House would not have been possible without Rep. Loon’s persistence and the groundswell of grassroots support from consumers demanding a change from their legislators,” Daudt said. “This historic vote brings us one step closer to giving Minnesotans the freedom to buy their favorite beer or wine on any day of the week without government getting in the way.”

Less than two months into session, the early vote is part of a calculated strategy to put pressure on the more reticent state Senate. The upper chamber didn’t take a vote on Sunday alcohol sales last year, but two years ago the measure failed on a 35-28 vote. The bill, authored by Rep. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, will get a hearing in the Senate commerce committee on Wednesday. Supporters say the vote is expected to be close in the full Senate.

Over the years, Sunday liquor sales bills have struggled to get a full hearing in the House and Senate commerce committees, which has forced supporters to offer it as an amendment to larger, so-called omnibus liquor bills when they come up for a vote on the floors. This is the first year the bill had a full hearing and vote, instead of going the amendment route.

Legislators have voted against Sunday alcohol sales over the years for all kinds of reasons, from religious beliefs to concerns over the health and societal costs of drinking. They’ve also been heavily lobbied to vote no by a powerful cadre of groups, including the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA), which represents small liquor stores across the state. They argue that an extra day of sales will increase overhead expenses.

“Today’s vote is one step in a long legislative process,” Tony Chesak, executive director of the MLBA, said in a statement. “Our organization will continue to educate legislators and the public that authorizing Sunday sales will raise costs for small, family-owned businesses and consumers. This effort toward deregulation of the liquor industry is a step in the wrong direction as it will lead to reduced choices for consumers and the un-leveling of the playing field in favor of big box retailers.” 

Several DFL legislators asked Republicans in control of the House to pass a different bill that would use a portion of Sunday alcohol sales revenues toward chemical dependency programs. 

Attitudes toward Sunday sales have been shifting markedly in recent years, especially as groups like the Minnesota Beer Activists and the public have gotten more involved in the debate, mostly through social media channels. There’s also plenty of new blood — and votes — at the Capitol. There are 21 new state senators and 23 new House members in the 201-seat Legislature.

If the bill passes both chambers, Gov. Mark Dayton has said he’ll sign it into law, meaning Sunday alcohol sales would kick in on Sunday, July 2, 2017.