The Minnesota House plan would allow sales in premium seats so long as a third of general admission customers also get served.
The Minnesota House opened the door Thursday to selling alcohol in the premium seating area of the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium -- provided at least some of those sitting in general seats can also be served.
Reviving a simmering debate in the last days of the legislative session, the House overwhelmingly adopted language that would allow alcohol sales in premium seats if alcohol was sold in at least one-third of the general seating area.
The proposal would require that 75 percent of the revenue from the alcohol sales go to scholarships for students from Minnesota who come from families with annual adjusted gross incomes of under $100,000.
While the proposal still has to clear a House-Senate conference committee and then the Senate, it quickly picked up qualified support from two key players.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who had called selling alcohol only in premium seats "rather elitist," said the plan was a "compromise" that he could support. A spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who had also opposed selling alcohol only in premium seats, said that "if the Legislature can work out a compromise [the governor's] open to it."
University spokesman Dan Wolter said school officials would study the proposal. "Certainly, President [Bob] Bruininks and the Board of Regents will review any changes made in state law to see if that changes anything from the university's perspective," he said.
Said Rukavina: "I'm always willing to compromise. It resolves the issue, you know, of the public and the students that are [of] legal drinking age to be treated fairly ... [and] the money is going for a good cause."
Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said he offered the proposal as an "olive branch" to the university after it appeared the issue was not going to be addressed this year by the Legislature. Lobbyists for Friends of Gopher Sports, a group of influential athletic boosters at the school, said earlier Thursday that they had all but abandoned hope of winning approval for alcohol service in the premium seats.
The group's spokesman, lobbyist Jim Erickson, said, however, that while the last-minute efforts by legislators were appreciated, the group believed that "the only true fix" was a plan that allowed the school to decide where to serve alcohol in the stadium.
The issue resurrected a debate that took place at the Capitol last year -- before TCF Bank Stadium opened -- that led the Legislature and Pawlenty to say that alcohol should either be sold throughout the stadium or not at all. Reacting to that decision, the university voted to forbid alcohol not only throughout TCF Bank Stadium but also at other on-campus athletic facilities.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she too agreed with the compromise and predicted that the Legislature would likely adopt the proposal.
The Senate had earlier this year approved serving alcohol in the stadium's premium seats, leaving the House as the major sticking point for supporters of the plan.
"I think it makes it a go with the Legislature. What the university does, I guess, is up to them," she said late Thursday. "I knew that people were kind of working on it," she said of Thursday's late attempt to insert the language into legislation that dealt with a wide range of commerce-related topics.
With the Legislature set to adjourn Monday, the dramatic turnabout came just hours after the issue was all but declared dead for the year.
A House-Senate conference committee on higher education, which was expected to debate the stadium alcohol issue, had issued a report Wednesday that did not address the topic. When the report was adopted by both the House and Senate without any debate on the stadium plan, many observers agreed that the issue was likely over until next year.
Even former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, who also joined the Friends of Gopher Sports group, said earlier Thursday he had essentially given up hope.
"I don't see any other opportunities around to do it," he said. "My read is that it's not going to go this year.
But Atkins said he and other legislators had been meeting to try to find an alternative way to revive the debate, especially after the House-Senate conference committee on higher education did not address the issue.
"So long as one third of the general seating [has] beer available ... then they'd be allowed to serve it in the suites, which is what they've been wanting to do," he said.
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673