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Political Notebook: Expect major push to scrap Sunday liquor sales ban

Could 2017 be the year that Minnesota lawmakers lift the ban on Sunday liquor store sales?

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Elaine "Twig" Hanenberg, 59, of Zumbrota, helps a customer at the West Concord Municipal Liquor Store on Thursday, Dec. 15.
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Could 2017 be the year that Minnesota lawmakers lift the ban on Sunday liquor store sales?

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt thinks so. During a recent legislative preview forum sponsored by Forum News Service, Daudt told reporters he expects a bill getting rid of the ban to pass the Minnesota House in 2017.

"It's just past time. If a liquor store doesn't want to be open on Sunday, they don't have to," Daudt said.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, also left the door open to the ban being lifted.

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

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This past year, the House came as close as it every has to lifting the ban. Lawmakers rejected a proposal to allow municipalities to decide whether to let liquor stores be open on Sundays by a vote of 70 to 56. The Senate defeated a Sunday liquor store sales measure by a vote of 35 to 28 in 2015.

But this year could be different. For starters, there will be a lot of new faces at the Capitol this year. A total of 23 new House members and 21 new senators will be taking the oath of office on Jan. 3. In addition, groups in support of lifting the ban have been ramping up their lobbying efforts. Supporters argue that the state law is antiquated and that consumers should have the option of buying liquor on Sundays.

The push to allow Sunday liquor sales also faces fierce opposition. Some argue it would hurt mom and pop liquor stores struggling to compete with big box retailers. They also worry it could hurt city owned liquor stores that will have to compete with private businesses seven days a week instead of six.

What do local lawmakers think?

Rep.-elect Duane Sauke, DFL-Rochester, said he has not been convinced that there is a need to get rid of the Sunday sales ban. He said his impression is that only a small segment of the population really cares about this issue and most people don't have strong feelings about it.

"The argument to change would have to be very strong and convincing, and probably I would have to be convinced that society really cares about it," Sauke said.

Sen.-elect Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing, said he has not decided yet where he stands on the issue. He said he would be open to lifting the ban if cities or counties get the final say on whether stores can be open on Sundays or not.

"(Cities and counties) have a better understanding of their communities than the state does. I'd rather see something along those lines where the cities and counties have control over that," Goggin said.

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Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said he has watched as public opinion on the issue has shifted in favor of getting rid of the ban. While he has opposed allowing Sunday liquor store sales in the past, Sparks said he is now open to support it.

"I'm going to keep an open mind and listen to the debate," Sparks said. "If it has a chance, it's probably closer now than ever."

Trump and conflicts of interest

First District DFL Rep. Tim Walz is calling on Congress to make sure incoming President Donald Trump complies with a federal ban against insider trading.

Walz sent a letter to leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week encouraging them to make sure the Republican adheres to the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge or STOCK Act — a bill Walz sponsored. That legislation, which passed in 2012, prevents the president and from "using nonpublic information for private profit, engaging in insider trading or intentionally influencing an employment decision or practice of private entity solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation."

In the letter, Walz referred to comments by Trump dismissing concerns about possible conflicts of interest.

"Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the actions of the executive branch and investigate into those actions when necessary. I fully expect that the Committee will not treat this serious ethical matter any differently," Walz wrote.

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