Minnesota House approves Sunday liquor sales

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

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.

“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. 

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ted Hathaway on 02/20/2017 - 09:28 pm.

    Demon Rum’s Quieter Big Brother

    The long, painful slog of the state legislature towards finally joining most of the rest of the country in allowing Sunday sale of alcoholic beverages seems finally to be drawing to a close. As noted in the article above, some of the objections to allowing the sale have stemmed from concerns about increased consumption and other health/safety-related worries. These may be valid, but if their advocates lose out in the end, perhaps they might set their sights on another target: Tobacco.

    Tobacco has long been recognized as a major public health disaster. Decades and decades of research have demonstrated its malign effects. Alcohol is surely a destroyer for many people and undeniably a major social ill. But for the great majority of people who drink, it has no negative consequences. Indeed, there is significant evidence that moderate consumption may actually do some good. The same cannot be said for tobacco. There is no such thing as “moderate” tobacco use. Even people who never smoke can suffer from its effects just be being around others who smoke.

    But there are no Sunday limits on tobacco sales. No limits on what time of day it can be sold. Maybe the bars close a 1pm, but I can walk into a late-night convenience store at 4am and still buy a pack of cigarettes. Even better, I can be 18 and buy tobacco. No such luck with booze.

    After smoking a bunch of cigs, I might not fall asleep at the wheel and drive off the road, or go nuts and murder my child or spouse. But instead, maybe I’ll develop lung cancer when I’m 57, or suffer a heart attack at 49, or emphysema at 65. Maybe I’ll kick the bucket short and quick, costing my family and friends a loved one and many years of what I could have contributed as a productive member of society. Or maybe I’ll linger for years, costing God knows what in health care costs, before dying from tobacco’s effects all the same.

    With all we know, it’s fantastic to me that the growing and sale of tobacco is even permitted. The tobacco lawsuit settlement of years ago is a weird bargain with the devil, in which the state profits from the sale of tobacco while at the same time, with incredible irony, it funds programs to encourage people not to smoke. The argument of “consumer choice” for something with no safe limit or societal benefit is hollow. Yet, its sale has fewer limits than booze and always has. The mind boggles.

  2. Submitted by Joe Duffy on 02/21/2017 - 11:48 am.

    Sunday liquor sales

    Hooray! Long overdue to overturn the ban on Sunday liquor sales based on self-centered and specious reasoning.

  3. Submitted by Julie Moore on 02/22/2017 - 03:13 pm.

    Now on to real business

    Seriously . . . how much time and money has been spent over the years on this. Can we move on to important business now?

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