Op-ed: This is the year to repeal Minnesota’s Sunday sales ban
By Rep. Jenifer Loon (R–Eden Prairie)
This is the year.
It seems like almost every legislative session, hope is rekindled for advocates of legalizing Sunday alcohol sales in Minnesota. Legislation is introduced, news media covers this popular issue across the state, and legislators’ email inboxes are flooded with constituent letters asking for a change. As a long-time supporter of allowing alcohol to be sold on Sundays and the chief author of legislation to legalize Sunday sales again this session, I think advocates may finally be right—2017 could just be the year.
The prohibition of alcohol sales on Sunday is an outdated Blue Law that needs to be abolished. Consumers’ shopping habits have changed significantly since the law was first put into place. Sunday has become the second busiest retail shopping day of the week. Busy Minnesotans running their errands want the option to be able to stop at their local liquor store while they’re out buying groceries, getting new sneakers for the kids, or whatever else is on their “to do” list. Why shouldn’t shoppers be able to pick up a bottle of wine to go with dinner or a six-pack for the game with friends on a Sunday afternoon?
For our liquor retailers, state policy should not bar them from operating like other businesses who have the options and freedom to be open any and every day of the week for their customers. Many store owners believe their profits would increase if they were open on Sundays, and have come to testify before House and Senate committees about the benefits of legalizing Sunday sales. Others who worry that their profits would be stretched thin by adding Sundays have the choice of remaining closed on Sunday or closing on another day of the week when business may be slower.
Finally, from an economic standpoint, Minnesota’s neighbor states allow alcohol sales on Sunday, so why should our local businesses lose out on revenue when residents simply cross the border to make their purchase? Wisconsin and North Dakota are profiting from additional alcohol sales when that money could and should be staying in Minnesota. It’s a state policy that is hurting businesses and our local economy.
These arguments around Sunday alcohol sales have been going back and forth for decades now in Minnesota politics, so what makes 2017 so different?
In addition to growing popularity with citizens from Eden Prairie to Ely, more legislators are supporting a change in the law. Sunday sales legislation is actually moving through the committee process as a stand-alone bill in contrast to prior year attempts to amend the provision onto another piece of legislation on the House and Senate floors.
The House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee has already passed my bill allowing Sunday liquor sales with a strong bipartisan vote of 15-4. The next stop will be a full vote in the House of Representatives where it has the support of many members including the Speaker of the House. Additionally, our governor has stated he would allow the bill to become law if it reached his desk.
What’s more, the bill includes a handful of provisions to help appease groups who often come to the Capitol to lobby against a change in law. For instance, to accommodate liquor stores who are worried about additional labor costs but want to open on Sundays, the bill limits the hours of Sunday operations from 10 am to 6 pm—one 8-hour shift. The legislation also prohibits retailers from accepting any alcohol deliveries on Sunday in a nod to the Teamsters Union who does not want to make deliveries on that day. While these changes to the proposal are relatively minor, they offer a compromise that makes Sunday sales legislation more likely to pass.
Several states have pulled their Blue laws off the books in the past decade including Washington, Colorado and Connecticut, and have seen increases in both alcohol sales and tax revenue. I am hopeful that this year, we can add Minnesota to that list.
While Sunday sales is the issue that seems to pop up every legislative session, 2017 may just be different. This year could go down as the year legislators finally legalized Sunday alcohol sales, bringing flexibility to retailers who want to respond to consumer demand, and Minnesota liquor laws into the 21st century.