Minnesota State Senate’s Party Lines Blur as Liquor Laws Take Center Stage

Growler Sales State Senate

On Monday the Teamsters Union nabbed an important win in their push-back against a popular provision to allow for Sunday growler sales in the Minnesota State Senate’s liquor bill. All hope (for beer-lovers) seemed lost as the provision was officially stripped in the Senate Tax Committee. It appeared destined to become yet another autumn election issue… at least it did until 25 Republicans and 18 DFLers decided to not play nice and resurrected it on the floor of the Senate.

Even so, the issue may prove too challenging for a simple majority to overcome.

Minnesota is one of the last remaining states that doesn’t allow off-sale liquor sales on Sunday (meaning one can’t buy a closed container and take it home). Andrew Schmitt of MN Beer Activists has been working hard to get that changed, but unfortunately for him (and us) he has a lot of politicians to sway. Not only did the state Senate easily vote down the repeal, but so did the House last year with a majority of 106-21 (these numbers are far from reflecting the views of average Minnesotans on the matter). Schmitt shared some insights on this for Minnesota Connected:

“You have to keep in mind that there is decades of misinformation to overcome. Some very smart people actually believe the same old illogical talking points.”

Although the allowance of general Sunday liquor sales appears to be a long way off, the prospect of growlers being sold on Sunday still has a chance (because of the Senate floor vote).

Brau Brothers Gift Store Specials

Growler in a gift box on the right at Brau Brothers Taproom in Marshall, MN

Growlers are a 64 ounce refillable jug that local craft breweries are allowed to sell straight out of their taprooms. They’re environmentally friendly, convenient, delicious (usually) and perfectly sized for a small group of friends. Apparently they’re also a big contract-renegotiating headache for the Teamsters Union (or so they say). To the Teamsters and their allies such as Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA), losing the battle on growlers could mean a slippery slope to all-out Sunday Sales (which are even less appetizing to the Teamsters). The stakes are quite high.

That’s why, even though Monday the issue appeared to be put to bed, the resuscitation of growler sales on the floor meant so much. After the Senate body voted up the amendment (with a mix of support from both parties, but more-so Republican), Senator Jim Metzen (DFL-South St. Paul), the omnibus liquor bill’s sponsor, quickly had his bill tabled (thus stopping discussion and voting on it for the time being).

Usually when a bill is tabled it means that it quietly drifts away from memory and dies; but in the case of the omnibus liquor bill there are a plethora of provisions that politicians and voters have intense interest in (including extending bar hours for the MLB All-Star Game and beer sales at TCF Stadium for Vikings games). Unless the state House of Representatives manages to send up a workable version of their bill (doubtful), the Senate’s bill may not be allowed much rest. Its restlessness will also depend on the public uproar; Schmitt explained the importance of calling Senators and their reps if you have views on the issue:

“People like to blame lobbyists and special interests for politics going awry, but you have to get involved with the process if you want to have an impact. That means making phone calls, writing letters, voting in elections.”

First Avenue to Host Beer Rally on St. Patrick’s Day

This is a bi-partisan issue, but partisanship is still a problem. A recorded majority of Minnesotans want Sunday liquor sales; but if the issue doesn’t sway enough of voters outside the party they’re comfortable with then the debate holds little power. Schmitt:

“There isn’t enough backlash in the voting booth. I think this will change in the very near future, people have had enough.”

Whether voters have had their fill of political games and stonewalling on Sunday sales remains to be seen. But with the rise in popularity of our truly innovative craft breweries and wineries, it seems almost inevitable that the disruptive blue laws will eventually be filtered out.

 

Photos via: Brau Brothers Brewing Co — Erik Bergs — Minnesota Beer Activists

 



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