Herald editorial board
The state Legislature has moved forward with a plan to allow retail shopping in North Dakota on Sunday mornings. House Bill 1097 passed the House in January; the Senate this week approved it with a 25-21 vote.
With the stroke of Gov. Doug Burgum's pen - and he's expected to sign it - the bill will become law Aug. 1. For effect, perhaps the governor could sign it on a Sunday morning, since he has the ability, if he chooses, to work on a Sunday morning.
This has been an argument in North Dakota for more than a century. Anyone who has tried to purchase a non-grocery item - a bag of grass seed, for example - before noon on Sunday in North Dakota is sorely reminded of the state's continued adherence to its so-called "blue law." Dating back to 1877, the law first prohibited undue travel, public sports or servile labor on Sunday mornings. These days, it's a Class B misdemeanor, possibly with the potential of a $1,500 fine and 30 days in jail.
The trouble is that the law is rife with holes and inconsistencies. That bag of grass seed cannot be purchased before noon, but a bag of potato chips can. That's because certain businesses - restaurants, grocery stores, C-stores, movie theaters, etc. - are exempt from the law.
As lawmakers have pointed out, no law keeps stores from putting staff to work prior to noon on Sundays. As shoppers line up outside a store on Sunday mornings, there are workers inside doing all sorts of tasks in preparation for the day. And nothing stops North Dakotans from making internet purchases on Sunday mornings.
Yet even after all these years and even with all these exposed inconsistencies, Sunday morning retail sales remain a divided issue.
During Tuesday's vote, Grand Forks Sen. Ray Holmberg notably wore a tie he purchased via the internet on a Sunday morning, proving his point that Sunday sales are happening anyway. On the other side are people like Bismarck Sen. Dick Dever, who spoke of behavioral health issues in school and mass shootings.
"There was a time when as a society we placed great value on the time that families had for each other," he said.
Government, however, shouldn't be in the business of limiting basic, otherwise legal, business.
Two area senators, Robert Fors, R-Larimore and Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, voted against HB 1097. Grand Forks' Senate delegation - Democrat JoNell Bakke and Republicans Curt Kreun, Scott Meyer and Holmberg - voted in favor of Sunday morning sales. So did Devils Lake Republican Sen. Dave Oehlke.
Certainly, some businesses will feel they have been forced to open. A small hardware store owner may feel pressure to keep up with Menard's, which surely will be open on Sunday mornings come August or soon after.
But it's still the business owner's choice, and that's what this is about. For years, the government has limited certain industries from operating as those industries see fit, even as the times and American habits drastically change.
We appreciate the arguments made by Dever and others, but they're only reminiscent of a simpler era, and they're asking government to keep the clock stopped - even as society has moved on.