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Shuttered by stay-at-home order, restaurants move closer to limited liquor sales to-go

Gov. Tim Walz's emergency order has shuttered bars and restaurants to dine-in customers across the state. Lawmakers on Friday passed legislation to allow restaurants to sell beer and wine with to-go orders during their closure. House Photography file photo

Need some suds with that sandwich you just ordered from your favorite mom-and-pop shop? How about a bottle of red with that roast beef dinner?

It could all be done in one stop during the COVID-19 pandemic if the governor gives his authority.

Heading to Gov. Tim Walz is HF4562/SF4489* that would allow restaurants with liquor licenses to sell malt liquor, hard seltzer, cider, and wine with food takeout orders.

The House passed the bill 129-1 Friday, one day after the Senate did so 65-2. Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan) and Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point) are the sponsors.

“Our restaurants and their employees are facing extreme hardships during this pandemic,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brookyn Park) said in a statement. “We hope today’s legislation will help."

Bill proposing wine and beer to-go during emergency closure introduced on House Floor 4/17/20

Businesses could sell up to one bottle of wine and a six-pack of beer, and equivalent amounts of cider or hard seltzer, in their original, unopened packaging. The liquor could only be picked up, not delivered, and cities would have the option to prohibit such sales by resolution.

“We have seen across the state, and certainly in my community, a great support for small businesses and bars and restaurants,” Halverson said in a pre-session briefing. “ … We want to be sure these important small businesses are standing at the end of the day when this pandemic ends.”

“This is one small component of a much larger challenge facing the state of Minnesota and the people of the state,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) added during the briefing.

Republicans say the bill is a good start, but many argue more businesses need to reopen to help ease economic hardships across the state.

Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) has been taking selfies and videos at restaurants to encourage people to patronize them, but sometimes he’s had to stop filming when business owners break down with emotion. One told him he is the first person from the state who has shown interest and said, “Thank you for remembering us.”

“We have a long way to go,” he said. “People on main street Minnesota are depending on us.”

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano), a photography studio owner, questioned why it’s OK for big box stores and liquor stores to be open but not small retail businesses. Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton), a small-business owner, said he’s received hundreds of messages from constituents, including one who said their business had $43 left. Another questioned why their model, toy and game store couldn’t be open but food takeout is allowed.

McDonald said most lawmakers were on board when the shutdown began in March, but it would be almost impossible for many businesses to survive if the shutdown continues through May 24.

Before lawmakers pat themselves on the back, Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) said they need to understand the pain the shutdown has caused.

“We have taken everything from restaurant owners and we’re giving them this little mediocre provision that municipalities don’t have to allow,” he said.

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