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OUR OPINION: Let Minnesota liquor stores open on Sundays

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opinion Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks Herald
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Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Since 2002, some 16 states have changed their laws to allow Sunday liquor sales, reports the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

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That brings the total number of Sunday-liquor-sale states to 38. Those states include North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Now, it’s time for the state that’s in the middle of those four — Minnesota — to join the list.

The “blue laws” that keep Minnesota liquor stores closed on Sunday are relics of an earlier age. They no longer serve a religious purpose — and even if they did, “this is a diverse, cosmopolitan, worldly community of many cultures, who should no longer be constrained to the rule of a conservative religious culture,” writes Al McCarty, a Minneapolis bar manager, on the website of Legalize Sunday Sales of Alcohol in Minnesota.

Nor do the laws serve a public-safety purpose. Tellingly, not even the laws' supporters pretend that letting liquor stores open on Sunday will boost fatal accident rates — partly because if they did try to make that claim, a 2010 study summary by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library would prove them wrong.

“Restricting alcohol sales on Sunday has a negligible effect on fatal accident rates,” the summary declared.

So, why do key elements of Minnesota’s liquor lobby support keeping the ban on Sunday sales?

Because the law lets liquor stores stay closed on Sunday without fear of competition, as groups such as the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association freely admit.

In short, it lets liquor-store owners take a worry-free day off.

But as many others have pointed out, that’s not the way markets are supposed to work. Consumers want to give liquor stores the choice of opening on Sundays; a Public Policy Polling survey shows 59 percent of Minnesotans in favor of making the change, with only 27 percent opposed.

A number of liquor-store owners themselves also favor the change, including many in border communities such as Moorhead and East Grand Forks.

And that’s enough.

If liquor-store owners in Minnesota don’t want to open on Sunday, then they don’t have to. And none of the reforms being considered in St. Paul would force them to do so.

But neither should those owners be able use the law to impose their preferences on others who disagree. That’s the situation in Minnesota today; and in fairness to those businesses who’d like to sell liquor on Sundays, the law should let them do just that.

“It is unreasonable to not make some progress on this in 2014, the ‘unsession,’” said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and a leader of the effort to repeal the blue laws, in a Star Tribune story.

“What better unsession issue than the repeal of a Prohibition-era ban that just does not fit in 21st Century Minnesota?”

Reinert has a point. Minnesota lawmakers should either repeal the ban completely, or give cities and towns the power to set Sunday liquor-sale policies themselves.

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Tom Dennis
(701) 780-1276
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