Sunday liquor sale supporters are taking no chances in the Minnesota Legislature this year.
Seven different bills aimed at ending or easing the state's long-standing ban on Sunday sales rolled out Thursday from Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie. The Capitol has been killing off liquor bills for decades, but with polls showing growing support for Sunday sales, supporters say attitudes in St. Paul are starting to shift.
"We know there's more momentum on this than we've ever seen at the Capitol," Reinert said.
Gov. Mark Dayton has already signaled that if a Sunday liquor sales bill reaches his desk, he is prepared to sign it. In a recent interview Dayton said that a prohibition on Sunday sales "doesn't make sense" in modern-day Minnesota.
Last year Reinert offered a Sunday sales bill that never made it out of committee, while the House rejected a Sunday sales bill by a vote of 106-21. This year, Reinert is teaming up with a member of the House Republican leadership and is pledging to push at least one Sunday sales bill through the Senate Commerce Committee before the first committee deadlines, two weeks from now.
"I have had members who have indicated to me that they are rethinking their position on the Sunday ban," Loon said. "And I think it's because of the range of options we've provided for members to consider."
The bills range from full repeal to proposals that would allow individual communities to decide for themselves whether they want to permit Sunday sales. There's also a proposal to place Sunday sales on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, and bills — Reinert called them "baby steps" — that would allow growler sales and allow taprooms to open on Sunday.
"We are offering the Legislature a full spectrum of choices," Reinert said. "It is unreasonable to not make some progress on this in 2014, the 'unsession.' What better unsession issue than the repeal of a Prohibition-era ban that just does not fit in 21st-century Minnesota?"
Minnesota is one of only 12 states that does not allow liquor stores to sell on Sunday.
The state's liquor lobby, and a number of small mom-and-pop liquor stores, have successfully argued that lifting the ban could be bad for business. Instead of bringing in more sales, opponents say, it would simply spread six days of sales across seven.
Reinert countered that argument with a tongue-in-cheek bill that would ban Saturday liquor sales, as well as Sunday. Then, he said, liquor stores could concentrate six days' worth of business into just five.
"Now you have the same amount of expenses with just five days of expenses. Given the argument, I'm expecting a loud hurrah to come out of the [Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association], but somehow I don't think that's going to happen," said Reinert, noting that he has a list of 60 liquor stores around the state that support repeal.
Last year, the House rejected a Sunday sales bill on a 106-to-21 vote. This year, with polls showing support for repeal, that might change.
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association issued a statement blasting the repeal effort, warning that the only way stores will do more business is if Minnesotans do more drinking.
"When government changes the 'rules' that a private business is operating under, it will have an effect on many businesses," the statement said. "Some may do better, but we believe many businesses will see no benefit from the change and will experience increased costs in doing business. Unless alcohol consumption increases, our mom and pop stores will see increased costs without increased revenues."
For Loon, the issue boils down to a question of economic freedom.
"Some liquor store owners may not want to be open on Sunday, and I'm not here to tell you they have to be, or that I want them to be," she said. "What I'm saying is that there are liquor store owners who would like to be open on Sunday and there are consumers who would very much like to patronize liquor stores on Sunday, if that's when it works out for them to do their shopping. This is a change that is needed."