The Minnesota House rejected a measure that would allow cities or counties to decide whether to allow their liquor stores to open on Sundays, effectively ending another year’s bid for the repeal of the state’s Sunday sales ban.

The House voted 75-57 Tuesday against the amendment presented by Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, as part of the omnibus liquor bill. The House also rejected a second, similar amendment by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, would have allowed municipalities to decide on Sunday sales, but limit hours from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. That vote was 84-48.

Without the Sunday sales amendment, the House passed the Senate's omnibus liquor bill 127-4. The bill includes Sunday growler sales and the so-called “Bloody Mary Bill,” which allows bars and restaurants to sell alcohol at 8 a.m. on Sundays rather than 10 a.m.

Sunday sales proponents were initially optimistic that a political power shift, including support from House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, could change this year’s outcome.  Although the effort failed — the bills didn’t receive a committee vote in either body — the votes were significantly closer in the House than a 106-21 vote in 2013. Twenty-nine House members switched to “yes,” joined by 13 new members. 

Loon, who led a bipartisan Sunday sales effort with Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said she took a cautionary approach by introducing a local option to let cities decide whether they wanted Sunday sales, along with a prohibition on Sunday liquor deliveries — a move to appease the Teamsters, who nevertheless remained opposed to a full repeal. The House vote was two weeks after the Minnesota Senate voted 35-28 against a repeal of the Sunday sales ban, in another vote that was significantly closer than 2014 and gave proponents hope that a House victory could propel Sunday sales into conference committee negotiations. Instead, Loon said, the Senate vote may have contributed to their failed efforts.

“I think the Senate coming close but not passing it dampened people a little bit, thinking the Senate’s already voted no this year so maybe it won’t happen,” she said. “I think that had a little bit of a chilling effect on the vote, to be honest, but I think it’s great forward momentum. Sometimes these efforts take a few years.”

The vote means another victory for the influential Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, the lobby representing a network of bars and liquor store owners who oppose a repeal, saying big-box competition would force them to open Sundays, increasing overhead costs but not profits. Sunday sales proponents say the repeal would only give liquor stores the option to open Sundays. Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, has remained opposed to Sunday sales specifically because of those constituents. 

“Its day may come,” Davids said of Sunday sales. “I’m just listening to the small business owners in my district saying ‘We want a day off; give us a day off,’ and I don’t want to take that away from them.”
 
Brief debate

As opposed to the Senate, where a full repeal was introduced and passionately debated among members, the House breezed through Sunday sales relatively quickly. Defending his amendment on the House floor, Drazkowski argued that it’s an issue of free markets.
 
“Banning alcohol sales on Sundays, which our current law does, makes about as much sense as banning the sale of chickens on Mondays, gas on Tuesdays or shoes on Wednesdays,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
 
Just as the Sunday liquor sales debate is familiar, so were the arguments, with backers repeatedly referencing the number of Minnesota license plates in liquor store parking lots across state lines as lost revenue for the state. Detractors, like Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato, say it would only shutter local businesses.

“I have spoken to all the liquor store owners in Mankato and the area, and I have yet to find a single one that supports it,” Considine said. “To me, this looks like an all-out assault on mom and pop liquor stores.”
 
Other amendments included proposals by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, that would have allowed 18-20 year-olds to buy alcohol in certain situations, and Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, that would have also allowed Sunday auto sales. Kahn’s amendment was rejected 113-19, while Erhardt’s was rejected as not germane.
 
Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, succeeded with an amendment that would place a temporary ban on “Palcohol,” or powdered alcohol, until the Commissioner of Health could perform studies about the substance and report back to the Legislature.
 


 

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