Minnesota Senate defeats bid to open Sunday liquor sales

Published 9:40 am Friday, April 17, 2015

ST. PAUL — Fans and foes of Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor store sales both found reason to cheer a Minnesota Senate vote Thursday that maintains the restriction.

For the ban’s supporters — a collection of mom-and-pop liquor stores, bar owners, alcohol wholesalers and delivery crews — the 35-28 vote was a relief amid the toughest campaign they’ve faced to undo one of the nation’s last blue laws. Those urging repeal were heartened by movement of six senators from last year’s identical chamber membership, a sign they held up as clear momentum toward eventually achieving their goal.

“It’s not if, it’s when,” said Democratic Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth, one of the state border-district lawmakers who fret about the lost business to Wisconsin and other places that allow Sunday operations.

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Kim Wilson, the owner of an Oak Park Heights liquor store and opponent of the measure, said the issue might sound simple on the surface but the repeal would have ramifications to stores that operate on thin profit margins and face the prospect of staffing up for a seventh day.

The bill wouldn’t require any store to open. But speaking in opposition to the proposed change, Democratic Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm warned that main street liquor stores couldn’t risk closing if their chain-store competitors were open. He said it’s up to consumers to plan ahead.

“If you really need a bottle of wine for Sunday, buy it on Saturday, buy it on Friday, buy two or three on Friday,” Tomassoni said.

The repeal was offered as an amendment to a broader liquor policy bill. Fifteen Republicans and 13 Democrats voted to scrap the ban while 24 Democrats and 11 Republicans voted to keep it. Four senators were absent.

The House has yet to pass its own liquor package, so an amendment could surface there next.

Minnesota is among a dozen states that prohibit liquor store sales on Sunday.

The broader Senate liquor bill does allow craft breweries to sell 64-ounce growlers of beer on Sundays and would permit bars to dispense liquor earlier on Sundays. Currently, they can’t start serving until 10 a.m. The bill moves it to 8 a.m.

Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, said the nod to craft beer drinkers was cold comfort to other consumers. “The guy who just has six bucks who scrounged it up from the center console in his vehicle and maybe doesn’t have the money to engage in a growler habit is just as important as everybody else,” he said.

Sen. Susan Kent, the Woodbury Democrat who sponsored the repeal amendment, said it’s too soon to declare the campaign dead for the year.

“It’s only April. There’s a lot of time between now and mid-May,” Kent said, referring to the session’s mandatory end. “We’re trying to find the path.”