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Senate backs longer bar hours

By Ashley H. Grant

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- A bill that would let bars and liquor stores stay open later sailed through the Senate on Tuesday despite objections that it could lead to more drunken driving.

The Legislature has long rejected longer bar hours, but this year appears different. Senators approved the bill 51-13, and it has the support of the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The House hasn't yet voted directly on the issue. Gov. Tim Pawlenty voted against later bar hours when he was a legislator, but a spokesman said he hasn't taken a position this year.

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Supporters say the legislation would eliminate a dangerous late-night rush across state lines for an extra hour of drinking. Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin, along with most other states, allow bars to remain open until at least 2 a.m.; Minnesota's current closing time is 1 a.m.

They also say it would help draw more convention business. City officials have testified that some convention organizers avoid Minnesota because of the 1 a.m. close.

"By the time people are ready to do a little socializing, it's almost last call," said Sen. Linda Higgins, a Minneapolis Democrat who sponsored the amendment. Higgins said the proposal also would increase state sales tax revenue.

Sen. Mark Ourada, R-Buffalo, said the change was needed to accommodate people's increasingly varied schedules.

"This is not some kind of wild-eyed proposal. ... This is a convenience for people," Ourada said.

The proposal got the approval of two men in a St. Paul bar early Tuesday evening.

"Every other state does it, I don't know if it's a good idea or a bad idea, but there should be a standard nationally," said Elmer Detzler. "It gets confusing if you travel."

The legislation is opposed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Sen. Wes Skoglund, a Minneapolis DFLer, who was among those who worried that later bar hours would mean more drinking and more drunken drivers.

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"I think it makes Minnesota more dangerous," Skoglund said.

Fellow DFL Sen. Dean Johnson of Willmar said such a measure would mark a serious change in Minnesota's tradition.

"I'm asking you today ... is this the public policy we want for the state of Minnesota?" Johnson said.

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