WDAY: The News Leader

Published May 10, 2014, 11:52 AM

Minnesota Sunday liquor-law feud ends quietly

ST. PAUL -- State lawmakers pushing to chip away at — and eventually repeal — the Minnesota law that prohibits liquor stores from opening on Sundays threw in the towel Friday.

By: St. Paul Pioneer Press , WDAY

ST. PAUL -- State lawmakers pushing to chip away at — and eventually repeal — the Minnesota law that prohibits liquor stores from opening on Sundays threw in the towel Friday.

The effort is dead, for now.

“I guess I consider the Rest In Peace date on this today, for the 2014 session,” Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said Friday. “Clearly this is it for liquor this session.”

Reinert was joined at a Capitol press conference by state Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who led efforts in the House to change the law.

The Senate a few hours earlier had voted 49-15 for a scaled-down liquor bill passed overwhelmingly by the House on Thursday.

The bill, which Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign, doesn’t take a run at repealing the Sunday ban. Nor does it allow small breweries to sell “growlers” — containers that can be filled with beer, sealed, and carried away by the customer — on Sundays.

It does allow taprooms to be open on Sundays with municipal approval, but Reinert said that’s small comfort. He summed up the progress toward changing the state’s Sunday liquor laws this session as “whatever’s less than a baby step.”

Reinert and Loon announced near the beginning of the session that though they continued to advocate for a full repeal, they would be offering piecemeal options as well.

“I thought we had the small steps that were reasonable and not offensive,” Reinert said.

Minnesota is one of a dozen states that don’t allow Sunday liquor-store sales, and changing that has been a perennial losing cause at the state Capitol.

Social conservatives have opposed repeal efforts on moral grounds, and a liquor-store trade group has argued that being open Sundays would add to store owners’ costs without significantly increasing sales.

This year, Reinert said, a liquor bill containing the Sunday growler provision was moving with little opposition through committee “until all of a sudden we hit this Teamster opposition, and that stopped it dead in its tracks.”

The union argued allowing Sunday growler sales would trigger renegotiation of its contracts with wholesalers, Reinert said, though he said he was never shown documentation to back that up. In addition, “liquor stores don’t sell them (growlers), which means their members don’t carry them,” he said.

“I leave this session believing that they (the Teamsters) were just concerned about a larger Sunday sales issue and decided, after the fact, that they’d better fight this small step forward.”

Phone calls soliciting comment from a Teamsters representative were not returned.

A message left with a representative of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, a key opponent of repealing the Sunday sales ban, seeking comment about action on the bill this session was not returned.

In addition to the Sunday taproom sales provision, the liquor bill on its way to the governor allows Hennepin County authorities to OK a 4 a.m. closing time for bars and restaurants on the Monday and Tuesday night of the 2014 baseball all-star game event. It also would remove the expiration date on the University of Minnesota’s ability to sell beer at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Sunday growler provision was approved 43-22 as an amendment on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, but it died when the bill it was attached to was pulled from debate. An amendment that would have stricken the prohibition on Sunday sales from state law failed on the Senate floor 42-22.

A year ago, an effort in the Minnesota House to amend the liquor bill to allow Sunday sales failed 106-21.

Despite the setbacks, Reinert says he believes the issue gained new momentum this session and will be a potent topic in the fall elections.

“This was a session that provided for marriage equality, it was a session that provided for medical marijuana, but Sunday sales, that was too much? I mean, it’s just not going to make sense to voters and they’re going to demand action next session,” he said.

Loon said in part because of a convoluted process, which included House members not being able to amend the bill on the floor, public sentiment on this issue is being thwarted. “There’s overwhelmingly strong support for changing these laws,” she said.

Reinert again raised the possibility of throwing the issue to the voters.

“If you have something that 70 percent of Minnesotans want but somehow can’t make it through this building, then maybe it is time to make it a ballot question,” he said.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.