Minnesota House votes to undo Sunday liquor sales ban

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, February 21, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Monday put a massive crack in the state’s ban on Sunday liquor sales, overwhelmingly voting to repeal the Prohibition-era law after years of failed attempts.

Its passage marks an historic turn in a perennial debate in Minnesota, where lawmakers have never allowed a full vote on a bill to upturn the law and have defeated parliamentary amendments to sneak a repeal into larger bills. Though the effort faces longer odds in the Senate, lawmakers on both sides of the debate say 2017 could be the year that the ban finally falls.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, has voted against similar bills in past sessions because it’s been part of a larger omnibus liquor bill; however, she supported it this year because it was a standalone bill receiving wider public support.

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“This year I made the decision to support Sunday sales,” Poppe said in a statement. “Certainly the public input has been more aggressive than in years past and the time to make the change seems right.”

Poppe said both sides of the aisle contributed to getting the legislation passed, but noted the public’s voice was heard.

“This is also a great opportunity to highlight the value of contacting local lawmakers with comments and concerns about legislation coming before us; it makes a difference,” Poppe said.

Just a year after House lawmakers rejected a repeal effort a wide margin, the House passed a bill Monday on an 85-45 vote.

“I think the time has come. Consumers have asked for it,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon, an Eden Prairie Republican who spearheaded the effort.

Minnesota is one of just 12 states that still ban Sunday liquor sales. Surrounded by states that open their liquor stores on seven days a week, proponents of removing the ban say cross-border beer runs into Wisconsin and North and South Dakota on Sundays cost the state precious tax collections. Opponents from liquor industry organizations like the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association argue that allowing Sunday sales wouldn’t net stores more profit, but would increase costs, hurting small-town liquor stores the most.

“It’s an avenue for big box stores to eliminate small, locally owned liquor stores,” said Rep. John Considine, DFL-Mankato.

Both sides of the debate have beefed up their lobbying presence at the Capitol in recent years. The stronger repeal effort is largely driven by an influx of nearly four dozen new lawmakers elected in November who are more supportive of reversing the ban than their predecessors.

But more than 22 lawmakers who previously voted against allowing Sunday liquor sales changed their vote this year. Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who had previously voted to keep the law, gave the repeal effort a major push this year and predicted it would easily pass in the House.

“I think that tells a lot about the momentum behind this issue,” Daudt said about the bill’s large margin. “It may take them a few weeks in the Senate, but I think it will pass.”

The large margin is a signal of the mounting pressure on lawmakers to change the law after years of failed attempts. That pressure now turns to the Senate, where Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that a successful House vote “only turns up the heat on the boiling pot of water.”

A similar Senate bill was due for a Wednesday hearing. Gazelka said there’s a growing sense that the Sunday sales ban’s days are numbered, and lawmakers are ready to put the issue to rest.

“Without a doubt, each year it feels like there are more and more people who want to pass it,” said Gazelka, who still plans to vote against it.

If the bill passes, Sunday liquor sales could begin in July. Gov. Mark Dayton has promised to sign legislation if it reaches his desk.