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Sunday liquor sales off to a fast start at Capitol

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A House committee Tuesday gave lopsided approval to a measure that would lift the longtime state ban on Sunday liquor store sales.
AP 2011 file

Minnesota lawmakers renewed their decades-old debate over Sunday liquor sales Tuesday as the House Commerce Committee advanced a bill to the House floor on a 15-4 vote. 

As in previous years, supporters of the move are convinced that the time has come to lift Minnesota's longtime ban on Sunday liquor store sales. 

This time they could be right. 

The House bill would allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays, but not before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.  That's a smaller window than the law allows from Monday through Saturday. The bill also prohibits Sunday deliveries to liquor stores.

The ban dates back to the end of prohibition. Consumers and retailers want it gone, said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who has sponsored similar bills four times. 

"Shopping patterns have changed for many families and consumers," she said. "Sunday has become one of the most popular shopping days of the week, as people perhaps may have more time to run their errands, buy the things that they consume in their household and need to replenish."

Loon stressed that the bill would not force retailers to be open Sundays. 

Tamara Kramer, a Bloomington liquor store owner, said she's convinced Sunday sales will boost her business.

"If some stores can't sell enough on Sundays to cover their additional wages on Sundays then they certainly should have the right to stay closed, just as I should have the right to meet my customers' demands on the days they want to shop," Kramer said.

Other retailers remain opposed to the bill.

Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, said his members don't want the state changing a good system of liquor regulation.

"In Minnesota we have unparalleled product availability and consumer choice," he said. "We have lower than average alcohol prices. We have lower rates of social problems related to alcohol abuse. Finally, we have a nationally recognized, thriving craft local beer, wine and spirits industry. Our system is smart and balanced. It works well."   Gary Fry, a pastor from St. Paul, urged lawmakers to reject the measure on moral grounds. Fry said alcohol has ruined many lives, including his own.

"If this much destruction is being caused in six days, just think what seven days is going to do," Fry said.

But even some opponents concede that the numbers appear to be working against them this session. Last fall's election replaced many of their longtime allies with new legislators who are more sympathetic to the push for Sunday sales.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who is once again a co-sponsor of the bill, has predicted it will pass this session. 

In the Senate, Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is also expecting the bill to pass.     "Each year it gets closer and closer and closer. So I think a lot of people think it will happen this year," he said. "I personally as the majority leader will not stand in the way of that happening." 

No committee hearings have yet been scheduled for the Senate version of the bill.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he believes the public wants Sunday sales, and he's willing to sign the bill or let it become law without his signature. 

But Dayton, who's currently more focused on getting agreement on a health insurance relief bill, stressed that the Sunday sales legislation is not one of his priorities. 

"I'm not going to lobby for it. I'm not going to lobby against it," he said. "If it comes to me it will become law, assuming that it's a clean bill, depending only on whatever else is added to it."