Updated: 1:54 p.m. | Posted: 8:10 a.m.
Minnesota lawmakers are preparing Monday to put a massive crack in the state's ban on Sunday liquor sales, with a House floor vote to repeal the Prohibition-era law that House Speaker Kurt Daudt believes will pass.
Its passage would be an historic turn in a perennial debate in Minnesota, where lawmakers have never allowed a full vote on a bill to upturn the law and have defeated parliamentary amendments to sneak in a repeal in larger bills. Though the effort faces longer odds in the Senate, lawmakers on both sides of the debate say 2017 could be the year that the ban finally falls.
"Without a doubt, each year it feels like there are more and more people who want to pass it," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Gazelka, who plans to vote against the bill.
A House vote is set for Monday afternoon.
Minnesota is one of just 12 states that still ban Sunday liquor sales. Surrounded by states that open their liquor stores on seven days a week, proponents of removing the ban say cross-border beer runs into Wisconsin and North and South Dakota on Sundays cost the state precious tax collections.
Opponents from liquor industry organizations like the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association argue that allowing Sunday sales wouldn't net stores more profit, but would increase costs, hurting small-town liquor stores the most.
"You're just going to spread the number of sales from six days to seven days," said Sen. Gary Dahms, a Redwood Falls Republican. Both sides of the debate have beefed up their lobbying presence at the Capitol in recent years. The stronger repeal effort is largely driven by an influx of nearly four dozen new lawmakers elected in November who are more supportive of reversing the ban than their predecessors.
A successful vote in a House committee last month shows how much things have changed since last year, when the House defeated an amendment on a 70-56 vote. The House Commerce Committee sent the bill to the House floor in January on a 15-4 vote, with four representatives approving the repeal who had previously voted to uphold it. Daudt previously voted to keep the law, but gave the repeal effort a major push this year.
Whether the Senate will follow the House's lead is unclear, as more lawmakers in that chamber have previously voted to uphold the ban. But a Senate committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill for Wednesday and Gazelka said there's a growing sense that the ban's days are numbered. He said the House's Monday vote "only turns up the heat on the boiling pot of water."
If the bill passes, Sunday liquor sales would begin in July. Gov. Mark Dayton has promised to sign legislation if it reaches his desk.
"I'm not expecting anything, I'm just hoping for the best," said Andrew Schmitt, executive director of pro-Sunday sales lobbying group Minnesota Beer Activists.