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Miller to lead Sunday liquor fight in Senate

ST. PAUL — A southeast Minnesota lawmaker is leading the charge to scrap the state’s ban on Sunday liquor store sales.

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Sen. Jeremy Miller
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ST. PAUL — A Southeast Minnesota lawmaker is leading the charge to scrap the state's ban on Sunday liquor store sales.

Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller introduced two bills on Thursday to lift the ban. One of the bills gets rid of the ban entirely. The second would allow liquor stores to be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays but would not allow deliveries that day.

"I'm hearing from more and more consumers that they just want the opportunity to buy beer, wine and liquor on Sundays," Miller said.

Historically, attempts to lift the ban have failed at the Capitol, but this year might be different. For starters, GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt is a co-sponsor of the bill to allow Sunday liquor sales. A House vote on the issue is slated for Monday, and Daudt has said there are enough votes to pass it. The big political question mark is the Minnesota Senate.

"At this point, I don't know if we have the votes in the Senate. I believe that it will be very close," Miller said.

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Minnesota is one of 12 states in the nation that does not allow Sunday liquor sales. The state's so-called "blue law" dates back to 1936 — three years after prohibition ended.

Support for Sunday liquor sales does not fall along party lines. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle oppose and support the idea. Critics of the idea warn it could end up hurting family-run businesses and municipal-owned stores that are trying to compete with big box retailers.

If a survey of area lawmakers is any indication, plenty of senators have yet to make up their minds on the issue.

Sen. Dave Senjem has voted for Sunday liquor sales in the past. But now the Rochester Republican is torn over what to do. He fears that allowing Sunday liquor sales will end up hurting small liquor stores.

"If I had to vote in the next five minutes, I'm not sure what I would do," Senjem said

Also undecided is Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin. Historically, he has voted against allowing Sunday liquor sales, but the Austin Democrat is considering voting "yes" this time because he has been hearing from more constituents who want it.

"I'm open-minded to it," Sparks said.

Also on the fence is freshman Sen. Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing. He said constituents and liquor store owners in his district are split on the issue 50-50. He has heard concerns from some restaurants that fear if Sunday liquor sales are allowed, they could lose business because people will opt instead to pick up a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer.

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"I have not made up my mind," Goggin said. "I'm waiting until the bitter end."

Miller said he has been working with groups that have traditionally opposed Sunday liquor sales, including the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and the Teamsters, to address some of their concerns. That includes adding language to his bill that wouldn't allow liquor stores to request deliveries of new displays or other merchandise on Sundays.

Miller emphasizes that nothing in his bills would require a liquor store to open on Sundays. He noted that his district borders both Iowa and Wisconsin where Sunday liquor store sales are already allowed. He said the main thing he hears from consumers is that Sunday is a day they tend to do a lot of errands and they want the option to be able to do their liquor shopping then.

"We've fallen short to get this language passed into law up until now, but support and momentum have been building," Miller said. "I'm optimistic that this is the year we can finally get this done."

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