The Minnesota Senate rejected another push to end the state’s 80-year-old ban on Sunday liquor sales, but advocates for a repeal say a closer-than-ever margin and concessions for Sunday growler sales from taprooms spell hope for the perennial effort.
After an hourlong debate, the Senate voted 35 to 28 Thursday against a full repeal, introduced as an amendment by Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, to a package of liquor bills.
But in an indication that the objections to Sunday liquor sales may be softening, the Senate voted 51 to 11 to allow craft breweries to sell growlers — glass jugs of beer — on Sunday. A “Bloody Mary” provision would allow bars and restaurants to sell liquor on site as early as 8 a.m., rather than the current 10 a.m.
That’s a considerable change from last year, when a Sunday sales repeal was defeated 42-22, and language that would have permitted Sunday growler sales was stripped from the bill before it even made it to the floor.
Despite Thursday’s defeat, Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, remained optimistic. “The short answer is, the House is the next step,” said Osmek, a Sunday sales proponent, after the vote. “If they can pass it … I think we’ll get it this year.” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has said Sunday sales will get a House floor vote in this session.
Sunday sales long have been resisted by the powerful Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents liquor stores across the state. It contends the measure would force liquor stores to remain open to keep up with competition, creating higher overhead costs without the profits to match. But lobbyists and citizens alike have pushed back hard on that notion, saying the law would not force any businesses to open, rather than simply offering the option.
Daudt, once an opponent of Sunday sales, said it was feedback from everyday citizens that changed his mind, although he wouldn’t actively push his caucus for a “yes” vote. As in the Senate, a Sunday sales bill failed to receive a hearing in the House, but is likely to turn up on the floor as an amendment. Last week, Daudt gave the amendment a 50-50 chance of passing the House. If it does, he said he’s confident it will become law. The House soundly defeated a Sunday sales measure in 2013 by a vote of 106-21. A vote this year hasn’t yet been scheduled.
Before Thursday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, a Sunday sales opponent, expressed skepticism that it would pass. Bakk said Sunday growler sales represent a middle ground in the ongoing debate.
“For now,” he said. “I hope.”
Though Thursday’s floor debate was filled with the usual pro- and anti-Sunday sales arguments, the theme among some lawmakers voting yes was partly a nod to what some see as inevitability.
“This is coming. We see this brought up every single year; it’s coming at some point,” said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who urged a “yes” vote. “It would be nice to be able to put this behind us and start talking about more important things.
Others remained steadfast in their opposition, including Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who said Main Street liquor store owners, like car dealers, deserve a day off — and sacrificing it for a lack of profits isn’t worth it.
“Just go to a bar”
“If you really need a bottle of wine for Sunday, buy two or three on Friday or Saturday, and if you really want to use the gas going to Wisconsin, go to Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy solution here for people who think they need liquor on Sunday, and if you really, really need liquor on Sunday, just go to a bar and drink it there.”
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, struck a populist note. “The guy who just scrounged his six bucks in the center console of his vehicle maybe doesn’t have the money to engage in a growler habit is just as important as anybody else,” he said. “Let’s just make a uniform decision that applies to everybody equally.”
Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said he would back the amendment, but with some hesitation. He was told by liquor store owners in his district that being open Sundays would not create higher profits, but he disagrees that small liquor stores really have a choice. Big box stores with more resources will force smaller stores to stay open to remain competitive, he said.
“I’m going to support because I think the consumer has changed and our society has changed, but let’s not fool ourselves that this is a free market stand,” he said.
After the vote, Kent said she got involved because of the Sunday sales momentum.
“It feels like neighbors. Yes, there are obviously organized efforts like on Twitter, but it’s individuals who are speaking up,” she said. “It’s still April, so it’s not done yet.” The legislative session goes on until May 18.
Growlers a steppingstone
Senate passage of growler sales was happy news for owners of the more than 70 craft breweries now in the state.
“It’s like a steppingstone,” said Jeff Moriarty, CEO and president of Tin Whiskers Brewing in downtown St. Paul. In the 11 months his brewery has been open, Moriarty has enjoyed providing his product to Sunday customers, but is frustrated when he has to tell them they can’t take it off-site. Many of his customers are out-of-town visitors, for Minnesota Wild games and other events, and unable to come back another day.
Moriarty hopes the growler law will allow him to expand into other off-sale products, including six-packs and “bombers,” or larger, shareable bottles of beer. Moriarty, who is in Portland, Ore., for a craft brewers conference, said that being able to take smaller quantities away to sample has been innovative.