House passes Sunday liquor sales bill; now a tougher battle looms in the Senate

Huge wine selection
A customer browses at Total Wine in Roseville on July 29, 2014.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2014

Following relatively little debate, the House passed the Sunday sales legislation Monday on a convincing 85 to 45 vote. It's a major shift for the perennial issue that had failed year after year at the Capitol, often by wide margins.

This was the first time the Minnesota House voted on Sunday liquor sales as a stand-alone bill. Previous efforts were pushed unsuccessfully as last-minute amendments to larger bills on liquor policy. A House amendment failed last session by 14 votes.

The ban dates back to the end of prohibition.

Representative Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, the bill's chief sponsor, said it's time to put the state on par with its neighboring states.

"We are losing business across our borders every Sunday as Minnesotans leave our state lines to purchase something maybe they forgot or ran out of or just didn't have time to do during the week," Loon said. "I'd like Minnesota retailers to be able to have that business and to keep those tax revenues here at home."

Supporters say their cause was helped by an influx of new legislators, as well as by some veterans who changed their minds.

DFL Rep. Ray Dehn of Minneapolis was one of the switched votes.

"I have received lots of emails from constituents asking me to support this," said Dehn. "I believe this year we've gotten to a place that it looks like we're going to be able to move this bill forward. So, I will be responsive to the constituents."

Under the House bill, liquor stores would have the option of opening on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. In response to concerns raised by the Teamsters Union, the bill also prohibits product deliveries to liquor stores on Sundays.

But opponents remain convinced the change will hurt small businesses with an additional day of staffing costs. They argue that liquor sales won't increase but simply be spread out over seven days rather than six.

Rep. John Considine, DFL-Mankato, said all the small liquor stores in his area oppose Sunday sales.

"I feel a duty to protect Minnesota businesses and small businesses. If we do not start protecting them they are going to disappear," said Considine.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, opposed the bill on moral grounds.

"It's a libertine type of freedom that in my opinion will only end in bondage and negative consequences to many people, when we legalize access to some of these products that have extremely negative consequences," said Gruenhagen.

The debate now shifts to the state Senate, where the bill's prospects remain unclear.

A Senate commerce committee hearing is scheduled Wednesday on a slightly different Sunday sales bill. The Senate version would limit liquor stores hours to 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. It also prevents liquor wholesalers from soliciting orders or merchandising on Sundays.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the House passage turns up the heat on the Senate. Gazleka said he expects the bill will reach the full Senate, and he doesn't plan to delay action.

"I think if the votes are there I would prefer it was done sooner than later. I would rather get this discussion off the table, if the votes are there, so that we can work on things like passing a budget."

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton isn't a Sunday sales advocate, but he has said he won't veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

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