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Some MN lawmakers ready to take another vote to open Sunday liquor sales

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt laughs during the Forum News Service-sponsored pre-session briefing on Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in St. Paul. Pictured on the right is House minority leader-elect Melissa Hortman and on the left is Senate majority leader-elect Paul Gazelka. Forum News Service photo by Chad Richardson

ST. PAUL—Suddenly, an opening has appeared in a long effort to allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays. A chance, not a guarantee by any means.

"I think we are going to pass Sunday sales out of the House this year," House Speaker Kurt Daudt told a recent Forum News Service preview of the 2017 legislative session.

Daudt, R-Crown, said he named other Sunday sales supporters to the House Commerce Committee, where the legislation would start.

The issue arises nearly every year, but has failed, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge.

Despite Daudt's optimism, no one has counted votes and the Senate could be tougher than the House. Republican and Democratic Senate leaders for 2017 have a history of voting against opening liquor store doors on Sundays.

However, the Senate minority leader-elect said he is willing to reconsider his vote.

"I've generally been 'no' on Sunday sales, but I really want to see what our caucus thinks on that," Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said. "Stay tuned."

Sen. Tom Bakk, D-Cook, the outgoing Senate majority leader, who becomes minority leader on Jan. 3, said he will continue to oppose the measure.

But new members abound in 2017, and they could change the outcome of Sunday sales legislation.

"Members who have been here for a long time have taken those votes repeatedly," said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who has offered a Sunday liquor sales amendment several years in a row. "That's difficult to break from for some people. Now we have new members who are coming in with a fresh look on things and have a fresh perspective on what people in their districts want."

The Senate Sunday sales bill author is adding co-authors to his bill even before the session begins.

"The state of Minnesota is passing up on tax revenue because we're sending them across the state border," Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said. "I think it's time for us to move forward with the times. There's a lot of small business owners that want to be open on Sundays, it's just a vocal minority that want to be closed on Sunday because they want a state-regulated day off."

That is not how owners of small liquor stores describe their opposition. They long have held that if other stores were allowed to be open on Sundays, competition would force them to be, too. However, they say their sales would remain static while they would pay extra to staff stores a seventh day.

"If a liquor store doesn't want to be open on Sunday, they don't have to, but consumers would like to have that flexibility," Daudt said.

Lawmakers along the state border, near states that allow Sunday sales, are some of the strongest supporters of the concept.

Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, co-sponsored a 2015 bill to repeal the ban on Sunday liquor sales.

"I hear from consumer and liquor store owners they'd like that option to buy a case of beer and keep their money in Minnesota," Lien said.

Minnesota has banned Sunday liquor store sales since 1935, but does let bars be open on Sundays. Bills to overturn the Sunday sales ban repeatedly have failed in the Legislature.

Parking lots at liquor stores in Wisconsin towns such as Hudson and Superior often are full of vehicles with Minnesota license plates on Sundays.

Despite concerns for small liquor stores, Osmek said, businesses should be able to sell an otherwise legal product any day of the week.

"If businesses don't want to be open on Sunday, they don't have to be," he said. "If there's no sales and people don't want to shop and buy liquor on Sundays, they won't. Welcome to the free market, folks." contributed to this story.