Opponents of Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor store sales are getting more confident by the day, hoping to ride this week’s big victory in the House into similar success in the Senate.
“The momentum is certainly building,” Sen. Jeremy Miller, the measure’s chief Senate author, said Tuesday. A Senate committee will take it up Wednesday, and a full Senate vote could come soon.
An energetic grass-roots movement has mobilized public pressure to lift the Sunday ban. And advocates say a bevy of new state lawmakers are more open to Sunday sales, especially after a key compromise muted organized labor opposition.
Miller, R-Winona, predicted a win in the Senate Commerce Committee, which would set up a full Senate vote. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would not veto a bill scrapping the ban.
The House passed the Sunday sales bill on Monday by a wide margin of 85-45, the first time in state history that a legislative chamber has done so despite many previous attempts. Supporters say that victory changed the legislative dynamic overnight.
“A close, divided vote would have hindered us,” said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, another supporter. Osmek said senators often view the House members in their districts as potential opponents. So, when senators see their district representatives on the “aye” side, they want to follow suit and avoid running afoul of public opinion. It has consistently shown Minnesotans want to do away with the ban.
Sunday sale advocates are not counting their whiskey casks yet, however. Forces for keeping the ban in place have a lot going for them — a long-standing, well-organized opposition comprising many bars and liquor stores all over the state, politically active and with top lobbyists in their employ.
Both Senate caucus leaders — Senate DFL Minority Leader Tom Bakk and GOP Majority Leader Paul Gazelka — have opposed lifting the ban in the past.
And the legislative process is designed to be like the finals of “American Ninja Warrior” — a political and procedural obstacle course with a heavy bias for the status quo.
Still, the lopsided House vote Monday sent a clear signal that this finally could be the year.
Perhaps tellingly, Republican senators who have opposed lifting the Sunday ban did not respond to interview requests.
Alyssa Siems Roberson, a DFL spokeswoman, said there were more undecided votes on the DFL side than in past years, signaling that senatorial fingers are now in the political wind, hoping for guidance.
House DFLers from the Twin Cities area illustrated Monday how quickly the issue is changing. Among the 18 lawmakers representing just Minneapolis and St. Paul — all of them DFL — 14 voted to end the ban, whereas just five voted that way in 2016.
A deal with the Teamsters union that still would prohibit Sunday liquor deliveries gave DFL members another reason to vote yes.
Current language also would limit Sunday liquor store hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. And elected officials in individual municipalities could still opt out and prohibit Sunday sales.
Sen. Jeff Hayden, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee that will hear the bill Wednesday, has voted against allowing Sunday sales in the past but said he will switch his vote this time around.
“I heard from my constituents on this issue a lot,” said Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis. “And I mean, a lot.”
Miller credited grass roots activists like Andrew Schmitt of MN Beer Activists for a flurry of efforts to mobilize supporters and get them to contact lawmakers.
Hayden said Bakk has articulated his concerns on behalf of small liquor stores and municipal stores but has not applied pressure or requested that the DFL caucus unite behind him.
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said he would vote against lifting the ban again this year. He said he remains concerned about the fate of small liquor stores in the face of big-box competition. Small stores say they will have to open on Sundays to compete with big box retailers, seeing overhead rise without an equivalent jump in revenue — as they do not anticipate an increase in total sales.
Moreover, Tomassoni said, the stores and their workers want a day off and should get one. If people really need a drink on a Sunday, he said, they can go to a bar.
“Maybe a day off from drinking is a good thing,” Tomassoni said. “And that’s coming from an Iron Ranger.”