Lead backer says repeal of Minnesota Sunday liquor ban unlikely this year

PATRICK CONDON | Updated 3/19/2014

Sen. Roger Reinert is focusing on what he called "baby steps."

Christopher Hunt, 32, of Minneapolis shopped for beer at Surdyk's in Northeast Minneapolis.

A repeal of the Minnesota law that forces liquor stores to close on Sunday is not likely to pass the Legislature this year, according to the proposal's champion in the Senate.

Sen. Roger Reinert told the Star Tribune he lacks the votes to get a full repeal through the Senate Commerce Committee. Instead, Reinert is focusing on what he called "baby steps" -- several bills that would loosen Sunday restrictions on small breweries and tap rooms around the state. 

"It's a crack in the door," said Reinert, a Duluth Democrat. "We will continue to push for full repeal, and meanwhile it is a way to support this burgeoning microbrew industry in Minnesota." 

Supporters of scrapping the Sunday ban have gotten more organized and active at the Capitol this year. Their goal is to topple a longstanding law still supported by many small liquor store owners, who want to be able to close the shop one day a week without worrying about losing business to competitors. The law's supporters wield heavy clout with many lawmakers, but its critics gained steam after Gov. Mark Dayton said late last year that he'd sign a repeal. 

The Senate Commerce Committee will reviewing Reinert's brewery and taproom bills in a hearing Wednesday. Reinert said he believes he has the support to include all three bills in a larger liquor bill.

The Commerce Committee in the House, where support for the existing law appears stronger, has not taken or scheduled any action on bills loosening the Sunday prohibition. Reinert said he would likely have to press his case in a House-Senate conference committee on the liquor omnibus bill.

"My colleagues should expect that the many citizens who have engaged on this issue are not going anywhere," Reinert said. 

[Photo: Carlos Gonzalez]