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Our View: Ban on Sunday liquor sales isn't a constitutional issue

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The Post-Bulletin's editorial board doesn't oppose all amendments to the Minnesota Constitution. Our world is changing, and the most important document in our state must on occasion be tweaked to match the changing needs and values of its citizens.

But that said, our editorial board has a longstanding belief that the Constitution shouldn't be amended willy-nilly. Amendments should be proposed only in the most extreme instances, when there is an obvious ethical, fiscal or environmental need that multiple Legislatures routinely have neglected or ignored.

The inability to purchase a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer on Sunday meets neither of these criteria. Therefore, we do not believe it's time to start talking about amending the Constitution to end the ban on Sunday liquor sales.

Make no mistake — we want the ban lifted. It's an archaic law that puts businesses in border towns at a distinct disadvantage. Minnesota loses millions of dollars in tax revenue every year when people cross the state line to buy alcohol.

Nor do we buy the longstanding argument from owners of "mom-and-pop" liquor stores that their sales simply would be spread out over seven days instead of six, and that competition would force them to be open on Sundays even if they preferred to keep their doors locked. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Many businesses (Fareway is the best local example) choose to be closed on Sundays, even though their competitors are open. Some businesses are open 24 hours, and others are not. The owners make the call based on sales and profitability.

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So, we are disappointed the Legislature didn't do more to soften the ban on Sunday sales, or even to level a playing field that gives the state's wineries a huge advantage over the rapidly expanding craft beer industry. It makes no sense that Minnesotans can buy a bottle of locally produced wine on Sunday, but they can't buy a six-pack or a "growler" of locally produced beer.

Sen. Roger Reinert, a DFLer from Duluth, led the charge in the Senate to repeal the ban — an effort that historically has been the equivalent of running head-first into a brick wall. This year's defeat, despite poll numbers indicating that 60 percent of Minnesotans favor Sunday sales, has Reinert talking about introducing a constitutional amendment next year. "I'm starting to think it might be the only way to get this done," he said.

We disagree.

The debate about Sunday sales this year was unusually spirited. Legislators on both sides of the aisle say they're hearing from more constituents who favor Sunday sales. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown, was a staunch defender of the Sunday ban last year, but now says he would happily vote to repeal it if he had the chance. "I've heard from a lot of people in my district, so I've changed my thinking," he said.

This is how the process is supposed to work. Yes, it takes time, and it requires voters to communicate with their representatives and senators. We expect Sunday liquor sales to be a fairly hot topic on the campaign trail this year, and when our editorial board interviews legislative incumbents and their challengers, we'll ask them point-blank, "If elected, will you vote to end the ban on Sunday liquor sales?"

Ultimately, we have no doubt that the ban will be repealed. The momentum clearly is moving that direction, and as Minnesota's wine and beer industry continues to grow and add jobs (and tax revenue for the state), the pressure to dump this outdated "blue law" will only increase.

Legislators should be up to this task. If not — well, that's what elections are for.

Related Topics: KURT DAUDT
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