Senate passes Sunday liquor sales, Minnesota becomes state for grown-ups

This will soon be allowed on the day BEFORE Monday. Crazy, right?

This will soon be allowed on the day BEFORE Monday. Crazy, right? Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

 A rare bipartisan coalition of Minnesota senators came together Monday to end the state's prohibition on Sunday liquor sales. 

The bill passed 38-28 thanks to a downright weird mix of liberal Democrats from the Twin Cities metro area and some of the most conservative Republicans in the Capitol. 

The state House of Representatives had already passed the repeal bill. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will sign the Sunday sales legislation once it reaches his desk, meaning you can run right out and start buying booze sometime Sunday morning! In July! When this law would go into effect.

The Senate vote is the last big hurdle for ending an eight-decade ban, which grew out of Prohibition's end. Minnesota is one of a dozen states that have continued to prohibit liquor store sales on Sundays. In 2015, the Legislature granted a handout to Minnesota's burgeoning beer and liquor industries, legalizing the sale on Sundays of growlers for local breweries and small bottles for distilleries.

Bill author Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, observed that local governments would still be in control of allowing Sunday sales in their area. Indeed, Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, pointed out repealing the prohibition wouldn't make a difference for people in his city, which has its own ban in place.

Senjem, who'd previously supported Sunday sales, changed his mind this time around, saying: "Anyone who can't plan well enough, or isn't smart enough, or capable enough to buy their booze on Saturday night, probably shouldn't be drinking anyway."

Other legislators argued the law change would be a boon to big-box liquor stores and chains while hurting mom-and-pop businesses and municipal liquor stores in small towns.

Minority leader Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, tried offering an amendment that would've allowed only wine to be sold in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area on Sundays; Bakk withdrew his amendment when Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka spoke out against it. Gazelka did not tell his majority caucus how to vote on the bill. In the end, both he and Bakk voted "no," marking one of the few times both the GOP and DFL leader will oppose a bill that still passes.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, mentioned some of the "nostalgic" views against Sunday sales: Numerous legislators had spoken of Sundays as a day for God, the family, and rest. Benson deemed those arguments outdated.

"People skip church to go to hockey tournaments," she said, adding that it was probably "time for a little update to our liquor laws."

Prior to the vote, Gazelka said he heard from citizens "a number of times every week" about Sunday sales, more than he did about any other issue. Saying he wanted to move on to bigger issues like the budget, healthcare, and transportation, Gazelka warned that Monday's would be the bill's only chance to pass the Senate this year.

Miller, speaking last, said all the discussion of the bill's effect on private or publicly operated liquor stores left out one group: citizens, who'd been "loud and clear" in favor of legalizing Sunday sales.

"We have an opportunity to show the people that we're with them on this issue," Miller said.

The House and Senate bills are functionally identical, with one exception: The House would let liquor stores open at 10:00 a.m.; the Senate's provision starts Sunday operations at 11:00.

That difference means the two bills will have to be sorted out in a conference committee process.

A suggested compromise: 10:30 a.m. Or just pick one. Doesn't matter. Let's just get this over with and start acting like grown-ups.