A group of Minnesota legislators is calling on Gov. Tim Walz to allow restaurants to sell takeaway wine and beer, a move they say could boost sales and preserve jobs in an industry hit hard by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Restaurants and bars in the state have been closed to dine-in customers since March 17 and will remain closed until at least May 4 following the governor’s order to limit the spread of the virus. They can still do delivery or takeout food orders, but takeaway alcohol is not expressly allowed under the order.
At a news conference at the Capitol on Monday, restaurant owners said alcohol made up 30% to 45% of their total sales before they were shut down, and they now have inventory sitting on the shelves. Jason Saji, general manager of B52 Burgers & Brew in Lakeville and Inver Grove Heights, said sales at his restaurants are now down 80% to 90%, and much of his staff isn’t working.
“We care for the people working for us, they are our family,” he said. “We want the possibility to bring back more staff and support our payroll.”
Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, said executive action by Walz would be the quickest way to provide relief to restaurants and bars, but he’s also working on legislation that could be taken up as lawmakers return to the Capitol this week from a monthlong recess.
“I know wine and beer isn’t the most pressing issue right now, but the jobs are,” Koznick said.
On a press call Monday, Walz said he supports allowing bars and restaurants to sell takeaway beer and wine during the pandemic, but he thinks the Legislature should pass a bill this week that he can sign into law. He has concerns about authorizing it through an executive order because it doesn’t directly pertain to response to the pandemic.
“I hear you loud and clear, and I want to make those changes on alcohol if that helps in the short run,” Walz said.
Under the proposal, restaurants and bars could provide up to two bottles of takeaway wine and 144 ounces of beer, or roughly a dozen 12-ounce cans of beer or nine 16-ounce cans. Restaurants would be required to serve food with the takeaway wine and beer and everything would have to be sold in a closed container.
The bill would not allow takeaway mixed drinks after industry groups expressed concerns about the safety of open containers, Koznick said.
Sixteen other states are allowing bars and restaurants to serve takeaway drinks in some form during the pandemic, including New York, Colorado and Wisconsin. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and a coalition of mayors across the state recently signed a letter asking the governor for temporary alcohol sales and delivery for restaurants, bars, microdistilleries and larger craft breweries. The bill would allow local governments to opt out if they don’t want restaurants and bars in their community to sell takeaway alcohol.
Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, has expressed support for temporarily relaxing laws to allow takeout alcohol at bars and restaurants. “I don’t think anybody disagrees with the premise that we should open up as many businesses and workplaces we possibly can safely,” she said.
Lawmakers are returning to the Capitol this week to take up other temporary measures to respond to the global pandemic.
A bill slated for a vote in the House and Senate on Tuesday would extend the deadline to contest upcoming cost-of-living adjustments for people who pay child support and allow couples who want to get married to apply for a license remotely. The bill would also enable legislators to vote remotely in the midst of a public health crisis.
The bill also expands coverage of telemedicine appointments and gives more emergency powers to the various state agencies to respond to the pandemic, including the Department of Health, as officials look for sites to temporarily expand the number of hospital beds in the state. Each agency must report back to the Legislature on how they exercised emergency powers during the pandemic.
Legislators also plan to take up and vote on a compromise proposal to establish an emergency insulin program.