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New legislative year, new liquor bills

Posted by: under Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: March 6, 2014 - 3:54 PM
Rep. Jennifer Loon and Sen. Roger Reinert teamed up to introduce seven new bills Thursday. Star Tribune photo by Glen Stubbe.

Rep. Jennifer Loon and Sen. Roger Reinert teamed up Thursday to introduce seven new liquor bills. Star Tribune photo by Glen Stubbe.

Sunday liquor sale supporters in the Minnesota Legislature are taking no chances this year.

The bipartisan, bicameral team of Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jennifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, introduced seven different bills Thursday aimed at lifting or relaxing the state's longstanding ban on Sunday liquor sales.

"We are offering the Legislature a full spectrum of choices," Reinert, who pledged to have at least one of the bills out of Senate Commerce before the committee deadline, two weeks from now. "It is unreasonable to not make some progress on this in 2014, the 'unsession.' What better unsession issue than the repeal of a Prohibition-era ban that just does not fit in 21st Century Minnesota?"

The bills range from full repeal to proposals that would allow individual communities to decide for themselves whether they want to permit Sunday sales. There's also a proposal to place Sunday sales on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, and bills -- Reinert called them "baby steps" -- that would allow growler sales and allow tap rooms to open on Sunday.

Minnesota is one of only 12 states that does not allow liquor sales to open on Sunday. Every year, the issue comes up in the Legislature, and every year it either stalls in committee or gets resoundingly rejected by a floor vote.

The state's liquor lobby, and many small mom and pop liquor stores, have successfully argued that the ban could be bad for business. Instead of bringing in more sales, opponents say, it will simply spread six days of sales across seven.

Reinert countered that argument with a tongue-in-cheek bill that would ban Saturday liquor sales, as well as Sunday. Then, he said, liquor stores could concentrate six days' worth of business in just five.

"Now you have the same amount of expenses with just five days of expenses. Given the argument, I'm expecting a loud hurrah to come out of the (Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association), but somehow I don't think that's going to happen," said Reinert, noting that he has a list of 60 liquor stores around the state that support repeal.

Last year, the House voted down a Sunday sales bill by a margin of 106 to 21. This year, with polls showing support for repeal, that might change.

"We know there's more momentum on this than we've ever seen at the Capitol," Reinert said.

"I have had members who have indicated to me that they are rethinking their position on the Sunday ban," Loon said. "And I think it's because of the range of options we've provided for members to consider."

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association issued a statement blasting the repeal effort, warning that the only way stores will do more business is if Minnesotans do more drinking.


 “When government changes the ‘rules’ that a private business is operating under it will have an effect on many businesses,” the statement said. “Some may do better, but we believe many businesses will see no benefit from the change and will experience increased costs in doing business.  Unless alcohol consumption increases, our mom and pop stores will see increased costs without increased revenues.”

The statement continued: “The Legislature has overwhelmingly listened to the concerns of small business in the past and defeated attempts to change the rules.  We hope they will continue to support the local business in their districts.

The Distilled Spirits Council, by contrast, praised the repeal plans. Seventeen other states have legalized Sunday sales since 2002.

“Nationally, states are repealing outdated Prohibition-era alcohol laws to increase consumer convenience and generate new revenue without raising taxes,” DISCUS Vice President Dale Szyndrowski said in a statement.  “We urge Minnesota lawmakers to consider passing Sunday sales for consumers, small business owners and the treasury.”

For Loon, the issue boils down to a question of economic freedom.

"Some liquor store owners may not want to be open on Sunday, and I'm not here to tell you they have to be, or that I want them to be," she said. "What I'm saying is that there are liquor store owners who would like to be open on Sunday and there are consumers who would very much like to patronize liquor stores on Sunday, if that's when it works out for them to do their shopping. This is a change that is needed."

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