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Katherine Grandstrand, Forum Communications, Published September 01 2012

Workers flocking to North Dakota introduced to Blue Laws

DICKINSON, N.D. – As workers and their families flock to North Dakota from out of state for the oil boom, there are questions regarding the state’s Blue Laws, which prevent general retailers from opening between midnight and noon on Sundays.

The Blue Laws have evolved over time, allowing for certain businesses to open their doors. Until 1991, no retail stores were allowed to be open Sundays. Prior to 1967, no businesses of any kind were allowed to be open on Sundays.

“There weren’t any stores at all that were open on Sunday,” said District 36 Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, whose husband, Dean, was in the state Senate when the changes were made. “It was really an issue for anyone traveling, if you needed gas, anything like that.

“I believe (Dean) was one of the first people to put in so that we could be open on Sunday, and it was very, very controversial at that time.”

If brought up in the Legislature today, there would still be controversy, Meyer said, but not to the extent in the 1980s.

Out-of-staters might not understand the Blue Laws, but they’ll get used to them, said District 36 Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England.

“I think everything they’re finding in North Dakota is just a little bit different,” he said.

The younger generation is questioning the need for Blue Laws, wondering why the government is controlling their Sunday morning activities, Meyer said.

“There’s always the religious component where people think, ‘You don’t need to shop, you should be going to church on Sunday morning,’ ” she said.

There’s more to the law than religion, Schatz said.

“The downtime and the rest that they get from that period of time is kind of welcomed,” he said of workers.

If the law was to change, businesses wouldn’t have to be open before noon, they would just have the option, said Jon Godfread, vice president of government affairs at the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, who maintains the position that businesses know best when to open.

“If they feel it’s going to be profitable for them to be open on Sunday mornings, they should be allowed to do that,” he said.

The Legislature has dealt with exemptions through the years, some passing, some not, Godfread said.

“If you’re going to address it, you should address it as a whole system, the whole law itself, rather than trying to do exceptions for each individual industry,” he said.

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Katherine Grandstrand writes for The Dickinson Press