House vote to allow Sunday liquor sales passes for first time in state history
by Jim Boyle
The effort to end the ban on Sunday liquor sales passed a legislative chamber for the first time in state history on Monday, Feb. 20, after years of failed attempts.
Local lawmaker Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, was part of the wave of lawmakers to push the bill through overwhelmingly on an 85-45 vote. He voted for ending the 159-year-old ban.
Zerwas, a former Elk River City Council member, had previously voted against repealing the ban.
“Since that vote I have been contacted by numerous people encouraging me to support Sunday sales,” Zerwas said.
New blood in the Legislature in recent elections have been pointed to for the turnaround in support. This year was a watershed shift.
“I think what’s different in the House this year is a result of grassroots activists that have kept this issue front and center.”
Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, has been a proponent of ending the ban on the Sunday liquor sales ban since his arrival in the Legislature. He said he has voted in favor of ending the ban three times.
“I am believer in the free market,” Lucero said. “I don’t think it’s any of the government’s business (to ban Sunday sales).”
He felt that way even as a Dayton City Council member. The community of Dayton and the communities he represents at the Legislature, including Otsego, do not have municipal liquor stores. He said even if there were, that would not matter to him.
“I say let the free market do what it does best,” he said. “Competition helps prices go down and quality (and service) go up.”
House File 30 was chief authored by Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie.
“Having championed legislation to repeal the Sunday sales ban for the past four years, I have worked hard to bring momentum to this issue and grow support among legislators,” said Loon in a news release on the day of the bill’s passage. “Today’s vote reflects that work, passing bipartisan legislation in the House that is supported by a majority of Minnesota citizens who want to see our state’s antiquated alcohol laws move into the 21st century.
“Repealing the Sunday sales ban will give consumers and businesses the convenience and choice they deserve, and I hope we can get it signed into law this year.”
Opponents of the ban hope to capitalize on the wave that occurred in the House. The legislation needs Senate approval and Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature to become law.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill on a 7-4 vote on Feb. 22 but the bill still must pass the full Senate floor. There was no word as of Wednesday when there would be another vote on the bill.
Dayton has said he’ll sign a bill legalizing Sunday sales. Minnesota is one of just 12 states that prevents liquor stores from opening on Sundays.
Lucero said it will be an uphill battle in the house, but suggested if it passed the ban on Sunday, auto sales would be the next target.
Sunday liquor sales has been a perennial issue at the Legislature, but has gained momentum in recent years. In 2013, the provision earned just 21 “yes” votes, increasing each year and culminating in its successful passage in 2017.
Zerwas still opposes the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores, and said he has worked with the city of Elk River n efforts to make sure the House bill does not lead to allowing wine and beer sales in grocery stores.
Lucero said he would have to put some thought into that before taking one side or the other.
“If I had to make a decision right how, I would say let’s maintain the status quo,” he said. “Let’s end the Sunday liquor sales ban first, and then see how that goes.”