The Minnesota House passed a bill on Monday legalizing the retail sale of alcohol on Sundays, but tipplers must win over a more resistant Senate before they can buy their beer, wine and spirits any day of the week.
This is the first time in state history that a legislative chamber has passed a bill overturning the Sunday ban, a law that has been in effect since statehood in 1858 and remained in place after Prohibition.
“It’s time to bring Minnesota liquor laws into the 21st century,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, the bill’s chief author.
Recent elections have seen significant turnover at the Legislature, and among new lawmakers — of both parties — the Sunday ban has increasingly been viewed as an antiquated relic.
The measure drew 85 votes, well more than the 68 needed for passage and about 10 to 12 more than many advocates predicted.
The robust vote total should provide momentum going into the Senate, where a companion bill will receive a Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday. Still, it’s unclear whether the votes are there in the upper chamber, where Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, are both opposed to ending the Sunday ban.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign a bill overturning the Sunday ban if it comes to his desk.
A wall of interest group opposition has for years stymied efforts to end the ban. It is led by the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars and liquor stores that prefer the status quo and fear the end of the Sunday ban will lead to a cascade of deregulation — and with it, new competition — in what is currently a heavily regulated industry.
Tony Chesak, executive director of the group, issued a statement calling the vote “one step in a long legislative process.” Ending the prohibition, Chesak said, would “raise costs for small, family-owned businesses and consumers.”
Deregulating the liquor industry would “lead to reduced choices for consumers and the un-leveling of the playing field in favor of big box retailers,” he said.
A wave of lobbying muscle on the other side, led by such retailers as Total Wine, has weakened resistance to Sunday sales.
After years of debating the subject, the arguments on both sides were familiar to most lawmakers.
Opponents of the bill said small, family-owned stores would be forced to open on Sundays to compete with bigger retailers.
That in turn would increase overhead but not necessarily lead to more revenue, because consumers would merely buy the same amount of alcohol over seven days instead of six.
The debate and the vote were a partisan jumble, with “aye” votes coming from both parties. Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, who has sponsored an end to the ban in the past, said it’s “wrong for government to tell business which days they should be open.”
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said it was a “libertine” measure representing “licentious freedom.”
“I grew up in a time where adults limited and restricted their freedoms for the benefit of children, when it came to a product that has severe negative consequences,” he said.
The clearest divide was geographic: Lawmakers outside the metro area were more likely to vote nay, perhaps responding to pressure from small retailers and municipal liquor stores that are often a source of key tax revenue for their cities.
The House vote is a victory for Speaker Kurt Daudt, who unsuccessfully pushed for an end to the Sunday sales ban in 2015 and 2016. Daudt, who is considered a front-runner for the 2018 Republican nomination for governor, is trying to burnish his policy profile.
“We heard from Minnesotans very clearly and very loudly that they want an antiquated law changed,” said Daudt, who was beaming on the House floor after the vote, surrounded by reporters and TV cameras.
Ending the Sunday sales ban is a populist issue with which most Minnesotans are familiar, often when they realize they want beer for the Vikings game but have to drive to Wisconsin to get it.
Polls have consistently shown a majority of Minnesotans want an end to the Sunday prohibition.
Minnesota is one of 12 states that prohibit Sunday sales.
All of Minnesota’s border states allow Sunday sales.