Special Interests and Crony Politics Stop Sunday Growler Sales for Minnesota Brewers

The initiative to legalize Sunday liquor sales, a perennial issue at the Minnesota legislature, has once again met defeat at the hands of Minnesota lawmakers. Advocates for repeal tried a different approach for this year by offering a an array of bills ranging from full repeal to growler (64oz jugs) sales at qualifying small Minnesota breweries and brewpubs.

Sunday growler sales were adopted by both House and Senate Commerce Committees with little discussion. It appeared there would be some small progress toward Sunday liquor sales. Then, having taken no part in the public process, lobbyists for the  powerful Joint Council 32 Teamsters Union stepped in. (Read)

Former Teamster and Senate Tax Committee Chairman Sen. Rod Skoe (D-Clearwater), pulled the bill into the Senate Tax committee. The tax hearing, which had exceptionally short notice to the public, lasted less than 5 minutes and resulted in a the Senate version of the liquor bill without growlers. The full Senate added the Sunday growler provision back to the bill the very next day only to have the bill’s author, Sen Jim Metzen (D-South St. Paul), table the bill. (Read)

Faced with a liquor bill that contained several politically important provisions, including beer sales at TCF Stadium, House author Rep. Joe Atkins (D-Inver Grove Heights) took the controversial step of amended a gambling amendment. The gambling (now liquor bill) amendment included all the previously approved liquor provisions except Sunday growlers. But, because of House rules no amendments further could be offered. (Read) Rep Atkins tried to justify the unusual procedures by shifting blame to the Senate. In reality the Senate passed a liquor bill with Sunday growlers provisions, and with bipartisan support. (Video)

The un-amendable liquor bill put members of the House in an awkward situation. Representatives were left with no opportunity to discuss or amend the bill on behalf of their constituents. After much discussion about rules and procedures members voted to accept the now gambling/liquor omnibus bill as it was presented, without Sunday growler sales.

“The public’s voice was silenced today. The process utilized to bring the Omnibus Liquor bill forward lacked transparency and prohibited the ability of any member to offer an amendment on liquor issues—even though Minnesotans overwhelmingly support Sunday growler sales,” said Rep. Loon, a staunch supporter of changing the state’s outdated liquor laws. “By excluding the growler sales provision, House DFL leaders are hampering entrepreneurial activity, keeping businesses and their jobs from growing in our state.”

The new House version of the omnibus liquor bill was sent to the Senate where it passed. From there it went to Governor Dayton for a signature. Governor Dayton signed it into law earlier this week.

In a press conference last week. Sen Reinert said Sunday liquor sales is now a campaign issue. House Deputy Minority Leader Loon agreed, and a recent editorial in the Post Bulletin (Read) certainly echoes the sentiment.

No doubt Minnesotans across the state are angry. The crony politics that kept Sunday growlers, a very small Sunday liquor sales compromise, from passing have shown opposition isn’t really concerned with Mom & Pop stores after all.

The real tragedy is that Minnesota politicians that voted against Sunday growlers also voted to stifle a growing a industry. The craft brewing industry in Minnesota now accounts for some 8,000 jobs and $80 million in revenue. What could have been one of the best examples of Governor Dayton’s “Unsession” turned into a sad display politics as usual.

Thankfully Minnesota craft brewers aren’t done fighting.

“Allowing Sunday growler sales is an opportunity to help small Minnesota businesses grow,” said Jamie MacFarlane of Castle Danger Brewery. She continued, “We will miss out on Sunday growler sales this tourist season, along with all the other breweries who rely on those tourists returning home to share great beer with their friends and families. We are committed to making Sunday growlers a reality for Minnesota craft beer fans.”

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Andrew is just a guy that likes beer. You can usually find him on the twitters or spending time with his family.