Sunday liquor sales takes another step forward; Senate vote could come next week

Published 10:09 am Thursday, February 23, 2017

By Christopher Magan

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The prospect of liquor stores being open on Sundays in Minnesota is so close supporters can nearly taste the cold, frothy suds.

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A bill repealing the 159-year-old ban on Sunday sales cleared the important Senate commerce committee Wednesday with a 7-4 vote. The legislation now heads to the full Senate, where it is expected to be debated as soon as next week.

State Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, chief sponsor of the Senate bill, said it will be hard to stop the momentum of repealing the Sunday sales ban, which he said consumers want.

“During my time in the Senate, I have not seen a stronger grass-roots effort by the people to get something done,” Miller said. “The people have spoken loud and clear on this issue.”

A similar bill easily passed the Minnesota House with an 85-45 vote Monday. It was the first time a standalone repeal bill made it to the floor — past debates have been over amendments to other legislation and were easily defeated.

Senators on the commerce committee heard from small-business owners Wednesday. Some favor repealing the ban and some oppose it. Representatives of the state’s roughly 1,000 independently owned liquor stores say their businesses’ bottom lines will be affected the most.

Business owners such as Tamara Kramer, a Savage resident who owns the Vom Fass specialty liquor store at the Mall of America, say repealing the ban will be good for business. Kramer says Sundays are one of the mall’s busiest days and right now she can’t take advantage of the foot traffic.

“I simply want the option to open my store when my customers want to shop,” Kramer told the commerce committee members.

On the other side are store owners such as Peter Trocke, who says it will cost his Riverfront Liquor store in Mankato about $10,000 more a year to be open on an extra day. Trocke also fears repealing the Sunday ban will encourage more big-box and chain liquor stores.

“Something like that will destroy us,” Trocke said.

Minnesota is one of a dozen states with “blue laws” prohibiting liquor stores from selling alcohol on Sundays.

Senators also heard moral arguments against repealing the ban. Some worry that selling alcohol another day will lead to more alcoholism and drunken driving.

“Do we want more liquor sales in Minnesota?” asked Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who voted against sending the bill to the full Senate with the recommendation it be approved.

Supporters of the repeal countered that Minnesotans can already buy alcohol in restaurants and bars on Sundays. The Legislature also recently OK’d the sale of beer “growlers” on Sundays.