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First committee OKs Sunday liquor sales

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ST. PAUL -- A dozen Wisconsin snowmobilers walked into Dave Erickson's bar and liquor store last Sunday wanting to buy alcoholic beverages to take back to the resort where they were staying.

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But Erickson could not sell the booze because that would violate state law that bans Sunday liquor sales, something a Senate committee Wednesday narrowly voted to change.

"It saddens me," the owner of D-Ericks Liquors in Tower told the Senate Commerce Committee about not being able to serve his customers.

Erickson said he has turned away more than a thousand people in the past year because of the law.

Wednesday's Senate committee hearing showed that not all liquor store owners want the so-called "blue law" changed, with some saying an extra day of being open would add to their costs.

The committee voted 8-7 to send the bill authored by Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, to the Senate Finance Committee. The full Senate could vote on the measure later this spring if the Finance Committee approves it.

A similar House bill has not received a committee hearing.

Reinert's bill would overturn decades of tradition that liquor stores must be closed on Sundays, although bars may be open. While his bill originally would have continued to require them to close on Christmas, that was amended out of the measure Wednesday, so a store could be open every day.

"My motivation is freedom in the marketplace," Reinert said.

The senator has helped a Duluth liquor store owner and watched many from his area drive over bridges to buy liquor in Superior, Wis., on Sundays. That prompted him to offer the bill.

Liquor store operators testifying to the committee split on the issue.

"The present liquor law is archaic," declared John Wolf, owner of a south Minneapolis store.

Manager Candice Woods of Hutchinson Municipal Liquor, however, joined others in saying that opening an extra day would only spread the same business over seven days. In her case, that would cost $60,000 a year, she said, which would mean less money Hutchinson would receive in a time when the city needs more revenue.

Liquor stores in nearby communities such as Willmar and St. Cloud would steal her customers if she did not open on Sundays, Woods told the committee.

Reinert suggested that liquor stores could close on a day other than Sunday if business were slower then. There is nothing in his bill to require a store to open on Sundays.

President August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists said he supports the bill because Sunday was set aside as a Christian day off and no law should favor religion. Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council, however, said Minnesotans need a day of rest.

Tom Hanson, a former state finance commissioner, represented the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and said all neighboring states allow Sunday liquor sales and they serve "the same type of people, same types of values."

Hanson said the state could get up to $10 million a year more in taxes from extra sales made on Sundays, although bill opponents said that is far too high a figure.

Rick Anderson of a Minneapolis liquor store said that if "there is some sort of beer emergency on a Sunday," those involved always could go to a bar.

The next committee hearing is not scheduled, but Reinert does not expect it for several weeks. The bill's future is uncertain, something underscored by the close committee vote.

"Now, we start again," Reinert said.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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