Once again, the Minnesota House has debated, then thunderously rejected, the idea of legalizing liquor sales on Sunday.
Rep. Tina Liebling's attempt to lift Minnesota's longstanding ban went down hard Wednesday, by a vote of 106-21. The vote leaves Minnesota as one of just 12 states that still bar liquor stores from opening their doors on Sunday.
"We don't tell the bars to close on Sunday," said Liebling, a Rochester Democrat who said the old blue laws are unfair to consumers and to liquor store owners who would like to sell on Sunday. "Many, many responsible drinkers in the state, responsible consumers, simply want the opportunity to shop on Sunday, which is a day that many people want to go out and shop...We should not allow an industry to say 'We don't want to compete on one day of the week. Keep this day for us so we don't have to compete.'"
Minnesota is surrounded on all sides by states, and foreign nations, that have legalized Sunday sales. But an influential coalition at the Legislature -- liquor store owners, Teamsters and liquor industry lobbyists -- have joined forces for years to fight every effort to change the law.
Liquor store owners argue that lifting the Sunday sale ban would hurt tiny Mom and Pop shops, and would simply spread six days of sales across seven days. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, attempted to solve the problem by suggesting that state law be changed to allow liquor stores to choose the one day of the week they will close.
This is one of those issues that blurs party lines.
"Let me tell you, you go across the border on Sundays and those liquor stores across the border are buzzing," said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, whose district sits just across the river from Wisconsin. "We are exporting our business from Minnesota...The discussion's been about liquor store owners. What about the people of Minnesota?...The people of Minnesota want this amendment."
But this year, the liquor debate was soured by the recent House vote to hike the liquor tax for the first time in decades.
"The reason so many people go to Wisconsin is because of the high taxes on Minnesota. It really didn't have much to do at all about Sunday sales," said Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe. "So with the ever-increasing taxes on beer sales, we can expect more and more Minnesotans, regardless of whether it's open Sunday or not, to go to Wisconsin to buy their beer."
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, who made an unsuccessful attempt to push Sunday liquor sales in the Senate this session, issued a statement Wednesday, chiding the House for trying to add such a hot-button issue to the omnibus liquor bill debate, which usually features noncontroversial issues like beer festivals and wine tastings.
"Floor amendments are rarely successful, and not particularly helpful to the ongoing effort to change this outdated Blue Law,” said Reinert, who managed to wrangle a committee debate on Sunday sales, before the issue was dropped from the Senate's liquor omnibus. “I remain firmly committed to repealing the ban on Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota. However, this is a major change and needs to work its way through the legislative process so the public can have all the opportunity necessary for input.”