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Our View: Even without Reinert, legalize Sunday sales

Legalizing liquor sales on Sundays in Minnesota was never Roger Reinert's top priority as a state senator representing Duluth. But session in and session out, he carried the bill, and his name became synonymous with the effort to repeal a law as outdated as it was unsafe in border communities like Duluth where hopping the state line to buy more beer became an every-Sunday game of Russian roulette.

Consider the irony then that this year, the first without Reinert in St. Paul since his election as a state representative in 2009 and his stint as a senator starting in 2011, is the year the measure seems likeliest to finally be passed. A bill for repeal made it through a House committee last week, 15-4, including four former "no" votes now saying "yes." Republicans controlling the Legislature have indicated they'll approve it. The DFL governor has said he'll sign it.

As he should. Minnesota can join every neighboring state and province in allowing Sunday sales. We can stop being a dry outlier, as the News Tribune has opined in editorials nearly as annually published as Reinert's repeal measures were filed. We're a money-losing island stuck in 1858, when Sunday sales first were prohibited. Most other states, 38 in all, have realized the world is a far different place now than it was more than 150 years ago.

"I was passionate about this issue, but it was never my top priority," Reinert shared with the News Tribune Opinion page this week. "I worked on many more critical issues for our community, region, and state. I'm more proud of bonding dollars I've secured, my work on bringing back (local government aid) funding levels, and establishing the Purple Caucus (which encouraged cooperation between the political parties)."

But repealing the ban on Sunday sales always made good business sense to Reinert and others.

"I just couldn't rationalize the public-policy justification. It's a government-protected business model that denies clear consumer demand and no longer makes sense in the 21st century when weekends are the busiest shopping days of the week," Reinert said. "It's a populist issue, and we just had a populist election. Repeal has been close in the past couple sessions, and there appear to be new members in both bodies that are supportive."

So maybe Reinert helped "loosen the cap," so to say.

"Efforts over the past several years have certainly helped, (the legalization of) Sunday growler sales and Sunday tap room sales in particular," he acknowledged. "More importantly, removing those restrictions have been critical in helping the growing craft industry earn much-needed additional revenue."

Minnesota may be missing out on as much as $10.6 million a year in tax revenue with its liquor stores closed on Sundays, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Shoppers tend to spend more on Sundays, the council has found. And in the 35- to 54-year-old demographic, which accounts for nearly half of distilled-spirits consumers, Sunday is the second-busiest grocery shopping day of the week.

Minnesotans certainly have been in favor of allowing Sunday sales, including in a State Fair survey two years ago that found 64 percent supported repeal.

Popping over to Superior from Duluth when out of beer on a Sunday — hoping the few already consumed weren't a few too many — is a far easier journey now than a century and a half ago when Minnesota's Sunday-sale ban was first put in place. The world is a different place now, and an antiquated law prohibiting Sunday sales no longer fits. Minnesota lawmakers this session can finally authorize its repeal — even if Reinert isn't there anymore to carry it.

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