The Minnesota Senate voted to lift the state’s 158-year-old ban on Sunday alcohol sales Monday afternoon, a move that puts the issue another step closer to becoming law.
Senators voted 38-28 in favor of lifting the ban on Monday afternoon, just one week after the state House also overwhelmingly voted in favor of a similar bill. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will not veto Sunday alcohol sales if the issue makes it to his desk this session. Minnesota is one of 12 states that still prohibits liquor stores from being open on Sunday.
Repealing the ban to allow liquor stores to be open on Sunday has been a perennial issue in St. Paul. But year after year, it failed to garner enough votes to pass, thanks to a cadre of opposition, including the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents independent liquor stores across the state. They worry that allowing Sunday sales will favor big box retailers and open the door to other measures, like selling alcohol in grocery stores and gas stations.
The current proposal, authored by Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, passed out of committee just last week, but supporters were worried there weren’t enough votes to pass the issue in the full Senate. The last time the Senate voted on Sunday sales was in 2015, when it failed on a 35-28 vote.
There was still plenty of opposition on the floor this time around from senators, who said alcohol is dangerous and the bill would hit liquor stores in rural Minnesota the hardest. “All across Minnesota, the big boxes and the regional centers are changing our little rural communities, and they will never be the same,” Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said in the nearly two-hour debate. “Members, you are not going to take another vote this session that breaks more urban and rural than this.”
But pressure from the public has been steadily building over the years, and a new crop of legislators elected in the fall of 2016 has changed the dynamic in St. Paul.
There is one last hurdle before the bill becomes law, however. The Senate bill allows liquor stores to be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, but the House bill sets opening time an hour earlier, at 10 a.m.
The measure will now have to head to a conference committee to work out the differences — that or the full House will have take up and pass the Senate version of the bill.
Regardless, advocates of lifting the ban were celebratory after clearing the Senate. “It is time, this is a distraction,” said Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury. “We would rather be talking about other issues of greater significance to our constituents and the state. Let us pass this.”