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Bill Permitting Sunday Liquor Sales Advances

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A proposed liquor law change long bottled up at Minnesota’s Capitol inched ahead Wednesday when a Senate committee voted to permit booze sales in stores on Sundays and all holidays.

By an 8-7 vote, the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection endorsed the bill scrapping the current Sunday sales ban, leaving it one committee stop from the floor and marking a rare step forward for a proposal that usually goes nowhere.

But the measure faces a tough path given resistance from the state’s dominant liquor lobby, a truckers’ union and an influential family values group. The House hasn’t given a hearing to a companion bill.

Duluth Sen. Roger Reinert, a Democrat, sold his proposal as a way to provide more convenience to customers and possibly steer extra tax money to a cash-strapped state treasury, although estimates on the financial benefit vary wildly. All of Minnesota’s neighbors let stores operate on Sundays.

“It’s really interesting to note that at the foot of every bridge leading from Minnesota to Wisconsin is a liquor store. That doesn’t just happen — that’s the marketplace telling us something,” Reinert said. “What it’s telling us is a lot of Minnesotans want to make purchases on Sundays.”

The bill not only permits Sunday sales but also lifts restrictions on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Minnesota isn’t alone in its reexamination of a so-called blue law. Georgia’s Senate voted Wednesday to approve legislation allowing local communities to hold referenda on Sunday alcohol sales.

Before its vote, the Minnesota committee took testimony from a few store owners who said they would welcome the change and just as many who said it would add to overhead costs with only negligible upticks in sales. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association is opposed.

“The fact is we can smell a rat and the rat is: There is no money here. This is not going to be a winner for us,” said France 44 Wine and Spirits owner Rick Anderson, a board member of the beverage association.

He and other liquor store operators expect the change to mean sales made over six days now would be spread over seven. While opening on Sunday would be voluntary, they said they would feel competitive pressure to add a day.

A Teamsters representative said the labor union’s members fear they would be called on to make Sunday deliveries, and the Minnesota Family Council president said there social costs to expanded access to alcohol.

The committee’s vote crossed party lines.

John Wolfe, who runs Chicago Lake Liquors in Minneapolis, broke from the liquor industry trade group in pushing to dump the law he called “archaic.” Bars can serve drinks on Sundays, he noted.

“It is illogical for a society hell-bent on reducing drunk driving to tell its citizens they can have a drink on Sunday but they have to drive somewhere to buy it and consume it before driving home,” Wolfe said. “People who want to drink on Sundays are going to do so.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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