A bill to allow Sunday liquor sales moved a step closer to reality when it cleared a key hurdle Wednesday.

The proposal passed through its first committee with one vote to spare, despite opposition from some liquor store owners and the Teamsters union. The 8-7 vote marked the first time in recent history that Sunday-sales legislation advanced even that far.

"My motivation is freedom in the marketplace," said sponsor Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth. "This bill would allow businesses the option to be open on Sundays. It does not require anyone to do so."

Minnesota is one of 14 states that forbid the sale of liquor and wine on Sundays, under a law that has been on the books since at least 1858. All four surrounding states allow it.

But liquor store owners who do not want to open on Sundays have pushed back, aided by the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, a powerful liquor lobby that has quashed previous efforts to allow Sunday sales.

"We can smell a rat," Rick Anderson, owner of the France 44 liquor store in Minneapolis, told the committee Wednesday just before the vote. "And the rat is there is no money here. This is not going to be a winner for us."

It wasn't just liquor stores fighting the bill. The Minnesota Teamsters waged their own effort to stop it in its tracks, saying their drivers don't want to make liquor deliveries on Sundays.

"These are people that have enjoyed these days off to practice their faith or enjoyed the time off with their families," said Edward Reynoso, political director for the Teamsters.

Bill supporters say that Sunday sales could bring up to $10 million a year in new tax revenue, partly by reclaiming customers who now travel to border states to buy booze. But a Department of Revenue analysis has projected it would net no more than $500,000 a year.

Former Minnesota Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson, now a lobbyist for the Washington-based Distilled Spirits Council, asserted that the department is probably understating the number of extra liquor sales that could result from the measure.

Representatives of three liquor stores testified in support of the effort. John Wolf, owner of Chicago Lake Liquors in Minneapolis, said the existing law is unfair to Minnesota's liquor stores.

"It is an argument that is at cross-purposes with the basic tenets of capitalism," he said. That helped win over some freshman Republicans on the committee, who were elected under a free-market banner.

The committee added an amendment to allow sales on Christmas Day, also prohibited under current law. DFL Sen. Ann Rest, who voted against the bill, said the change was consistent with the theme of the legislation.

"A lot of people drink on Christmas Day," Rest said, to which Reinert quipped, "Everybody has my family, huh?"

One surprise was that Sen. John Harrington, a former St. Paul police chief, stopped by the committee to support the bill, saying it wouldn't have negative consequences for law enforcement.

Reinert's bill is likely to sit for several weeks before being heard in the Senate Finance Committee, which is wading into budget bills. The House Commerce Committee chair, Rep. Joe Hoppe, has not said whether he will hold a hearing on the House version.

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210