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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R)

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Most people recognize December 5, 1933 as the date when the national prohibition of alcohol ended in America.

Yet, more than 80 years later, our state laws continue to uphold a prohibition initiative that not only defies common sense but also has cost Minnesota hundreds of millions of dollars.

The ban on Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota is overwhelmingly opposed by Minnesota residents. But thanks to the deep pocketbooks of special interests, a bill that would end this prohibition on the free market hasn’t so much as received a House committee hearing during my eight years at the State Capitol.

Minnesota is one of 12 states that ban the sale of alcohol on Sunday, meaning Wisconsin, North and South Dakota and Iowa all benefit. According to estimates from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Minnesota loses $10.6 million annually in tax revenue by forcing liquor stores to close their doors on Sunday – and all of that money is going to our neighboring states.

In addition, a 2013 Public Policy Polling survey found 62 percent of Minnesotans favor Sunday liquor sales.

So why does Minnesota continue to overthink this no-brainer?

One argument says mom-and-pop liquor stores should be able to have a day off. Here’s the deal: a repeal of the Sunday alcohol sales ban would not compel stores to open. The store owner has the freedom to decide whether or not to open on Sunday or any other day. Just ask Wisconsin.

Another argument says Sunday is the Lord’s Day, so we should all take a day of rest. Yet Sunday is typically the heaviest shopping day of the week for consumers, so why not let them by beer or wine if they choose?

If you want the real answer, you need to follow the money. Special interests such as the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association, along with the Teamsters Union have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in an effort to keep the ban in place. Their influence, and their money, has worked.

So in an effort to end this once-a-week prohibition I am actually offering three separate bills in the hopes that one will gain enough legislative traction to restore free market principles to Sunday alcohol sales.

The first bill is a full repeal. The second bill gives cities and counties the opportunity to choose whether liquor stores could open for business on Sundays – in other words, local control of the issue. Finally, my last bill would create a pilot program in three Minnesota counties that are most impacted by lost Sunday alcohol sales – Winona, St. Louis, and eventually Dakota – and allow their liquor stores to open if they choose.

Prohibiting liquor sales on Sunday makes about as much sense as prohibiting doughnut sales on Monday, gasoline sales on Tuesday and tire sales on Wednesdays.

Think about it. What if the Legislature ordered coffee houses to close on Sundays and told you that if you wanted a cup of Joe bad enough you should have bought one Saturday night or that you had six other days to stock up? It’s nonsensical, yet we continue to hear it from the “Big Liquor” folks that are funding the lobby for the continued Sunday ban.

My bills appeal to the interest of people who overwhelmingly support this issue, and the liquor store owners in my district who are tired of losing business to Wisconsin. It doesn’t force anyone to open their doors but it does finally allow for the sale of their products on Sunday.

A bipartisan coalition is growing in support of this legislation, and Governor Dayton has indicated that if a bill reaches his desk that he will sign it. Let’s hope enough lawmakers can move this long overdue initiative forward.