An effort for a full repeal of Minnesota's ban on retail sales of alcohol on Sunday appears unlikely this session, but lawmakers may give more freedom to the state's burgeoning craft brewing movement.
A Senate committee on Wednesday kept alive one bill that would legalize Sunday sales by small brewers and another that would open taprooms on Sundays and allow the sale of 64-ounce containers called "growlers."
Sen. Roger Reinert, a Duluth Democrat who has championed Sunday alcohol sales for years, conceded that he didn't have enough support from the Commerce Committee for a complete rollback of the law.
"There aren't the votes," Reinert said in a Capitol hallway outside the room where the Senate commerce committee was conducting a hearing. "But we're clearly moving forward."
The remaining proposals may be included in a bigger liquor policy bill to be voted on later this session.
Reinert didn't view events as a loss, or the lesser measures as a concession.
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"A concession would be doing nothing," Reinert said in the interview. "That's why we presented a full spectrum of options in our news conference two weeks ago. These are just baby steps to what ultimately will be a full repeal."
Reinert and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie earlier this month presented a list of possible options for expanding Sunday-alcohol sales in Minnesota. Those included a full repeal of the ban, providing decision-making power to local government entities and a statewide voter referendum to decide the question.
Gov. Mark Dayton said earlier this year that he'd sign a repeal bill.
Many small liquor store owners support the Sunday prohibition, saying it saves them from having to be open a seventh day of the week for competitive reasons while not adding much profit.
Minnesota is one of 12 states that doesn't allow in-store liquor sales on Sunday. Sixteen states have repealed bans since 2000, and all four states that border Minnesota allow Sunday sales.
Lobbying by the Licensed Beverage Association and its members has made it difficult to repeal the ban. The full House rejected repeal last year by 106-21.
Reinert's pieces of legislation may have gotten a boost when a traditional opponent of Sunday sales testified in favor of the growler bill.
"It doesn't have direct impact on liquor stores," said Joe Bagnoli, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association. "This is another way to help (craft brewers) and hopefully help the entire industry."
Several people who testified in support of Reinert's bills said legalizing Sunday sales would grow their own organizations as well as the state's craft-brewing sector.
Badger Colish, head brewer at Canal Park Brewing Co. in Duluth, said his brewery already is open Sundays. People can buy a beer to drink there, but can't buy some to take away. Colish says that means they're incurring costs such as employee wages and taxes without full ability to profit from it.
"The inability to sell growlers on Sundays inhibits one avenue of income by one-seventh," Colish said.
What makes his situation and location particularly difficult is that the brewery is "only a bridge away from (Wisconsin) that allows growler sales on Sundays."