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History: House easily passes bill allowing off-sale Sunday liquor sales

After years of attempts, a bill that would allow Minnesotans to buy liquor on Sundays passed the House Monday by a bipartisan 85-45 vote.

HF30, sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), would limit Sunday alcohol sales from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., lifting a Prohibition-era ban on buying off-sale booze. Monday through Saturday sales would remain unchanged.

Included in the bill is a compromise provision that would prohibit carriers from delivering on Sundays.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) is the sponsor. A hearing on Sunday liquor sales is scheduled Wednesday by the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee.

The measure’s approval is a victory for Sunday sales proponents after the House last year shot down a similar proposal 70-56 and 75-57 in 2015. This year, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) announced early in the session he believed the bill had traction, even though its debate has been somewhat of a failed annual tradition at the Capitol.

Rep. Jenifer Loon presents HF30, a bill that would permit off-sale Sunday liquor sales, to the full House of Representatives Monday. Photo by Andrew VonBank

“I do think that the consumers of Minnesota have spoken, have spoken loudly and spoken over a long period of time,” Loon said.

Although members of both parties approved the bill after less than an hour of debate, it also received bipartisan opposition.

Dissenters argue lifting the ban would hurt small liquor outlets with limited resources who would be forced to compete with better-staffed big box stores. Likening it to disappearing local department stores and pharmacies, Rep. Jack Considine Jr. (DFL-Mankato) said small businesses are “gobbled up” when they go toe-to-toe with larger stores.

“I feel a duty to protect family business and small businesses,” Considine said. “If we do not start protecting them, they will start to disappear.”

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) warned that easing liquor restrictions would set a poor example for children and Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater) said the overhead costs of trying to compete would bury mom-and-pop liquor stores.

“I think it’s not something we want to do - go after the small businesses in our state,” Lohmer said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), who controls the bill’s fate in that chamber, said he’s willing to give the bill a floor hearing, leaving the decision up to the 67-member body even if he’s traditionally been opposed to the idea.

Minnesota is one of a dozen states with the so-called “blue law” on its books. Proponents say Minnesota is losing precious tax revenue to neighboring states who allow off-sale Sunday liquor sales. They also say it should be up to consumers when and where they purchase alcohol.

Citing “economic freedom,” Loon said Sunday sales gives busy consumers another day to purchase alcohol if they want it. Brushing aside concerns about local liquor stores losing sales to their bigger counterparts, she added, “They (consumers) are looking for convenience and they are happy to support their local liquor stores … this is about providing more choices.”

Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), a traditional “no” vote, supported the measure. She said compromise brought her on board, but warned the legislative body not to forget the small businesses. “Make sure you’re stopping by your mom-and-pop on the way home from work.”

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