There are so many liquor bills coming up for debate in the Legislature this week, we may have to card you before you read this column.
The House Commerce Committee is set to roll out the liquor omnibus bill, its annual collection of less-controversial alcohol-related measures. Among the bills vying for inclusion in this year’s omnibus is a proposal to make beer more available at more sports venues at the University of Minnesota.
Last year, the Legislature agreed to allow beer sales in TCF Bank Stadium if the university board approved the move, which it did. This year, Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, wants to open up alcohol sales to the hockey and basketball fans in the cheap seats at Mariucci and Williams arenas, too.
So much for the less-controversial bills. Other liquor bills floating around the Capitol this session have come in for more, ahem, spirited debate.
Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, sparked one of those debates on the House floor last week with a bill that would hike the excise tax on liquor for the first time since 1987. The increases would be 55 percent on liquor, more than 700 percent on wine and almost 500 percent on beer. That, Clark noted, amounts to 59 cents per liter on wine and $3.38 per liter on spirits — or pennies per glass.
She hopes to dedicate the estimated $190 million a year in additional tax revenue to courts, law enforcement agencies and treatment centers that deal with the social costs of alcohol abuse. But opponents say the bill is a staggering tax increase.
“A gallon of wine? We call that lunch,” Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, joked during floor debate after Clark described the per-glass increase — about 9 cents for wine, 3 cents for beer and 10 cents for liquor — as modest.
The House Taxes Committee will continue its debate on the legislation on Wednesday.
But drawing the most public interest this year is the annual debate on Sunday liquor sales. Minnesota is one of just 12 states that shutter their liquor stores every Sunday. Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, whose district sits just over the border from the seven-day-a-week liquor stores of Wisconsin, is pushing a bill that would allow liquor stores to open on Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas.
If that’s too much of a commitment, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, is proposing test legislation that would allow Minnesota liquor stores to open on the one day when running out of beer could be a true calamity: Super Bowl Sunday 2014.
Sunday sales are staunchly opposed by many liquor store owners, who don’t want to open an extra day and worry that they would simply spread six days of sales across seven.
But, as one liquor store learned last week, you need to be cautious when lobbying against Sunday sales.
“Our customers have never asked us for Sunday sales,” Maryann Campo, of Minneapolis’s South Lyndale Liquors, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Her customers promptly let her know that many of them do. South Lyndale’s Facebook feed filled with dozens of disappointed and angry comments.
Insurance exchange debate
The Minnesota House begins debate Monday on legislation that will create an online marketplace where an expected 1.3 million Minnesotans and small businesses will buy their health insurance.
The health insurance exchange was a major feature of the federal Affordable Care Act. Critics say it will drive up the cost of insurance. The Senate could take the bill up Thursday.