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Senate bottles up Sunday liquor sales debate

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators Updated: May 6, 2014 - 5:55 PM

Minnesotans hoping that this year legislators would repeal the state's ban on Sunday hours at liquor stores will have to keep waiting.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Senate overwhelmingly rejected rescinding the ban and rejected the idea of allowing local governments to decide whether to allow liquor stores to stay open on Sunday. But then, on a similarly lopsided vote, senators decided to poke a hole in the ban large enough for brewers to sell glass growlers on Sundays.

The 64-ounce beer-sized hole in the ban was large enough to cause DFL Sen. Jim Metzen, the sponsor of the liquor bill, to pull his bill from consideration. His move freezes debate on the issue for now.

The decades-old 'Blue law' that requires Minnesota liquor stores to be closed on Sunday has grown increasingly contentious in the state.

Opponents say it constitutes a state restriction on free market activity and hurts business in border communities. Supporters say the ban does little harm, and is ingrained into how Minnesota liquor stores operate.

"It seems to me people should be able to plan just a little bit ahead," said Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbook. Skoe suggested that half-step measures like local oversight, or Sunday growler sales, have an ulterior motive: “The real goal is repeal of the Sunday liquor prohibition. And you can just see the steps from growlers to six packs to kegs and cases of wine.”

But opponents, who, like supporters, cut across political party, say liquor stores and liquor buyers should have the choice.

“I’m amused by the idea that Sen. Skoe knows better about when you ought to be able to go to the store to buy a legal product from people who are voluntarily selling it," said Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover.

The Minnesota House, which last year rejected a full repeal of the Sunday liquor sales ban, have approved the growler bill in committee but the measure has yet to receive a floor vote. Earlier this year, the growler measure appeared to be headed toward passage but opposition mounted, particularly from the Teamsters' union.

With the move from South St. Paul's Metzen on Tuesday to table the liquor bill and just two weeks left in this year's legislative session, the idea of Sunday liquor sales is left in limbo.

Key Senate backer of Sunday sales, Sen, Roger Reinert said he was heartened by the Senate's support for the growler provision but is left unclear on the next steps.

“I'm not sure where we go from here given that the liquor bill was tabled, but today's vote sends a strong message," said Reinert, DFL-Duluth.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said if a measure allowing Sunday sales reaches his desk he will sign it.

Photo: Lobbyists outside of the Senate chamber on Tuesday, watching the vote on the Sunday sales measures.

Star Tribune staff writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.

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