ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Advocates for allowing Minnesota residents to buy booze on Sundays are back at it.
A bipartisan pair of lawmakers renewed their loud but long-unsuccessful campaign Thursday to undo the state's ban on Sunday liquor sales. It's a perennial issue at the Legislature, where proponents haven't been able to overcome the liquor store lobby's efforts to retain Minnesota's "blue law." Nearly every vote to repeal has failed by lopsided margins.
Rep. Jenifer Loon, an Eden Prairie Republican leading the charge in the House, insisted their efforts — small and large — are gaining momentum. She said she and other advocates will keep pounding their head against the wall until they break through "or get tired of beating our heads, I guess."
MAKING THE CHANGE
Minnesota is one of just 12 states that ban liquor stores from opening Sundays, a holdover from Prohibition.
In years past, Loon and Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, have offered up proposals to change everything from allowing taprooms to sell growlers on Sundays up to repealing the ban. This year, Loon and Reinert are going for the full-scale repeal.
Other lawmakers have offered up their own takes this year, such as a pilot plan that would legalize Sunday sales for five years in just three counties: St. Louis, Winona and Dakota counties.
Loon and Reinert said advocates' increased mobilization of liquor store owners who support repealing the ban will eventually pay off.
"It's just a matter of time," Loon said. "With every year that passes, there is more pressure."
Loon said new House Speaker Kurt Daudt's support of legalizing Sunday sales — after voting against it in the past — will give their push a boost. So, too, will Gov. Mark Dayton's promise to sign a bill if it makes it to his desk.
A vote to repeal the ban in the Senate last year failed 42-22. Loon said there's no certainty her bill will even get a committee hearing in the House.
The state's liquor lobby and stores opposed to Sunday sales have increased their efforts too, hiring extra lobbyists and a public relations team.
"I think they're worried," Loon said.
Mark Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk down as a powerful "no" vote.
Bakk, a Cook Democrat, said he's never heard from any liquor stores in his massive northeastern Minnesota district who want to open on Sundays. He said he fears the change would only hurt smaller shops and city-run stores.
That's a familiar argument from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and other groups, who say opening on Sunday would only raise costs without increasing revenues. Bakk said stores in his district would feel forced to stay open to compete with the big-box stores in larger cities.
Despite his own opposition, Bakk said he can't prevent a vote on the issue this year in some form in the Senate.
Loon and Reinert brought a handful of supportive liquor store owners to St. Paul on Thursday to make their case that stores should be able to choose when to be open.
Reinert said the ban hits stores particularly hard in his hometown of Duluth and other border cities, where thirsty customers can cross the border into Wisconsin.
Tamra Kramer, who owns Vom Fass at the Mall of America, said she thinks Sunday sales would net her store $50,000 to $100,000 more each year.
"It should be an easy issue. We're keeping our beer cold for the customer on Sunday. We're paying rent," said Nick O'Connell, who runs a West St. Paul liquor store. "We want to best serve the customer."
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