No cheers for Sunday liquor sales; Push sees another loss at the Capitol

Published 9:21 am Friday, May 13, 2016

By J. Patrick Coolican and Maya Rao

Minneapolis Star Tribune

ST. PAUL — The perennial effort to allow Minnesotans to buy liquor on Sundays failed again after a House debate Thursday featuring passionate speeches about protecting mom-and-pop businesses, public health and freedom.

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“This is America. People are supposed to be able to shop on the day they want to shop,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, part of a bipartisan coalition that has sought to legalize Sunday sales for years, only to see the measure defeated again this session on the House floor 70-56.

As the Legislature enters its final 10 days with major issues like taxes, transportation and a public-works bill unresolved, legislators took up a list of smaller items Thursday that was as long as it was diverse.

Sunday liquor sales and fantasy sports betting were dealt setbacks. The Senate passed a bill to allow a presidential primary to replace the sometimes unruly caucuses. Major changes to an Iron Range economic development agency passed the House, but faces a bruising path in the Senate. A Real ID law passed the Senate, bringing Minnesota closer to federal compliance that would ensure state residents can board commercial flights without problems.

A meeting between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, broke up quickly without resolution on the issues that have divided the two parties since last year: What to do with a $900 million budget surplus and how to address pressing transportation needs.

Dayton said administration officials would work over the weekend on a transportation compromise to be reviewed Monday.

With those issues in limbo, legislators hustled to meet the May 23 deadline on other bills, with mixed results.

A bill formally legalizing daily fantasy sports died in a Senate committee after passing the House overwhelmingly. Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and Bakk — whose opinions hold considerable sway, given their power over state budgets — expressed opposition in the committee that he chairs. Bill sponsor Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, surrendered and tabled the bill.

Some states have declared daily fantasy play to be illegal online gambling, a fate that industry advocates hope to avoid here with a bill codifying its legal status. The industry likely faces the prospect of a more rigorous regulatory and tax regime when it tries again next year.

Real ID and a primary

In the Senate, legislators authorized the state to start complying with the federal government’s Real ID requirements, ensuring that Minnesotans can board commercial airliners and enter federal buildings in the future using state IDs. The legislation resolves a yearslong dispute after Minnesota objected to a federal law requiring tougher standards for licenses following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, citing concerns about mass collection of private data.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who wrote the original bill forbidding Minnesota from complying with the federal law, said he hoped legislators would give the issue more time. “I’m asking you to keep the privacy rights of our citizens as a foremost priority,” he told bill sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

The Senate also passed a bill moving the state to the presidential primary system — a measure that supporters hope will expand voter participation and prevent a repeat of the chaotic, crowded caucuses Minnesotans experienced this year. The DFL and GOP still would hold caucuses separately for members to choose delegates and discuss party issues.

The measure creates a closed primary, meaning that voters would declare their party affiliation and could participate only if they are a member of the party. Several legislators pushed back against the provision — which would make Minnesotans’ party affiliation public information — saying that it raised privacy concerns and could depress voter participation by pushing away independent voters.

An amendment to allow an open primary failed overwhelmingly.

Liquor sales: ‘an issue of freedom’

The Sunday liquor debate rehashed arguments heard for years, with the status quo winning again.

“This is an issue of freedom,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who sponsored the measure that would have allowed cities and towns to decide whether to permit Sunday sales. Loon said Minnesota is losing out on sales and liquor tax revenue when residents go to Wisconsin on Sundays to buy booze.

Opponents said Sunday sales would be unfair to mom-and-pop liquor stores that would have higher overhead without a significant increase in sales. Opponents also said more alcohol sales would lead to more alcohol-related crime.

With Daudt’s support, the GOP offered more “yea” votes than the DFL, but the bill was ultimately defeated by a bipartisan coalition that included 29 Republicans.

The lobbying coalition opposing Sunday sales is perceived at the Capitol as wielding unusual clout, given public support for the change.

—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.