Minnesotans who want liquor stores to open on Sundays said it's about convenience, but opponents argued at a Senate committee hearing Monday that many liquor stores don't want to increase costs by opening for another day.
Minnesota is one of 12 states that outlaw Sunday liquor sales. It's an issue that comes up year after year, but has never made much headway at the Capitol.
There was little evidence fortunes have changed when the Senate Commerce Committee discussed Sen. Roger Reinert's bill during rapid-fire hearing on 13 alcohol-related proposals.
Reinert, DFL-Duluth, called it a "courtesy hearing," and told The Associated Press in an interview that he knows his bill won't succeed until everyday Minnesotans get behind it. The committee didn't vote on the bill.
"People like the idea, but they're not willing to do anything to make it change," he said. "I'm just the vehicle, not the engine."
Jason Alvey, owner of the Four Firkins liquor store in St. Louis Park, told the committee Monday that consumers want Minnesota to become the 10th state in the past decade to allow businesses like his to open on Sundays.
"It is the year 2013, yet I pay rent 52 days a year that I'm not allowed to open my business, and I think that's very frustrating," Alvey said.
Reinert's bill would also allow liquor stores to open on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He and Alvey stressed that the bill would not force liquor stores to open Sundays, but give them a choice.
But opponents say that in practice, it would force liquor stores to stay open seven days a week.
"If you don't open on seventh day and your competitors do, there goes your customer base," said Edward Reynoso, political director for Teamsters 32 Joint Council.
Maryann Campo, who opened South Lyndale Liquors in Minneapolis in 1975, said the bill would raise her store's labor costs without boosting profits.
"We don't see any economic advantage," Campo said. "Our customers have never asked us for Sunday sales."
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association has effectively lobbied against the change every year with the same argument: Its member stores want one day off a week, and that the extra day would merely spread six days of sales over a full week.
Reinert introduced the same bill in 2011. It stalled after passing the Commerce Committee. A similar, Republican-backed amendment to a larger House alcohol bill last year failed by a wide margin.
Also Monday, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, unveiled a bill to allow liquor stores to open on Super Bowl Sunday in 2014. He called it a one-year pilot for a day that could generate huge sales for liquor stores. If it works, the Legislature could permanently legalize Super Bowl Sunday liquor store sales.
Page 2 of 2 - Garofalo opposes broader Sunday sales, which he said would increase stores' labor costs, only to be passed on to consumers.
"It means higher liquor prices. The public doesn't understand that," he said.
House Democrats also introduced Monday a bill that would increase taxes on alcohol sales. Revenue from those taxes would be used to fund several programs, like increased drunken driving patrols and domestic violence prevention grants.