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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published May 11 2014

Minnesota political notebook: Sunday liquor sales an evergreen issue

ST. PAUL - Rod Skoe doesn’t understand why Sunday drinkers can’t plan ahead.

Roger Reinert doesn’t understand why the state puts Minnesota liquor stores at a disadvantage to those in Wisconsin.

The two Democratic state senators usually vote alike but are on different sides of a debate about whether Sunday liquor sales should be allowed.

It is not one of those issues that pits Democrats against Republicans. There is more of a geographic tinge to the debate, but even that does not tell the story. Liquor, gambling and a handful of other social issues draw on each legislator’s personal feelings more than any other factor.

A Senate debate in the past week showed some of the divisiveness of the issue.

Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, offered an amendment to allow liquor stores to sell their products on Sundays. But because unions complained that such a law would force their drivers to work Sundays, Miller’s amendment would ban Sunday deliveries in the hopes that Democrats who rely on union support would go along. It didn’t work.

Miller, like Duluth’s Reinert, sees constituents drive to Wisconsin to spend their booze money on Sundays.

Skoe from Clearbrook, in northwest Minnesota, said that Sunday sales would have “a pretty significant impact on property taxes” because competitive forces would force city-owned liquor stores to be open Sundays. The stores would get the same profits as when they were open six days, Skoe said, but would face a seventh day’s expenses, thus reducing profits handed over to cities.

Reinert and Miller, on the other hand, say Minnesota stores near states such as Wisconsin that allow Sunday sales are losing money every Sunday. That hurts taxes, business owners and employees, they say.

Stars in Legislature

MinnPost’s columnist Doug Grow has declared four Democrats the stars of this year’s legislative session.

Three of the four live in the Twin Cities, but three have deep greater Minnesota backgrounds, two connected to Bemidji.

The only truly big-city lawmaker of the four is Minneapolis’ Scott Dibble. At the other end, Rep. Carly Melin of Hibbing remains in a small town; she is a Bemidji State University graduate.

Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley is a Bemidji native. Rep. Dan Schoen of St. Paul Park came from west-central Minnesota and attended MACCRAY High School in Clara City and Ridgewater College in Willmar.

Dibble got lots of publicity last year leading a successful gay marriage legalization effort and this year championed anti-bullying and medical marijuana bills.

Melin, in her second term, is leading the Women’s Economic Security Act and a second medical marijuana bill, as well as some lesser-known legal industry efforts.

Winkler this year has been fairly quiet other than one of the session’s blockbuster issues: increasing the state minimum wage.

“The biggest surprise of the session, though, has been the work of Rep. Dan Schoen,” Grow wrote.

Schoen, a policeman in his first term, sponsored a bill that takes guns from domestic abusers; a measure known as Steve’s Law to help people who overdose with heroin; and a measure that helps advance practice registered nurses.

Hot, hot debate

One of the most heated debates this legislative session came during a night meeting that got little attention.

When a Senate committee was considering how to spend $846 million on public works construction projects around the state, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, offered an amendment to strip funding from several projects to boost money available to the Lewis and Clark water project in southwest Minnesota. It set off an urban-greater Minnesota spat.

Sen. Richard Cohen, D-St. Paul, immediately offered, and quickly withdrew, a proposal to take money for the water project from St. Cloud and Rochester civic centers. Debate was hot about that, as well as when Sen. Matt Schmit, D-Red Wing, tried to increase spending for a riverside project in his community.

“This puts Red Wing in a very difficult position to receive less than half what we were asking for to complete this project,” the Post Bulletin of Rochester reported Schmit as saying.

“But Schmit’s amendment did not sit well with fellow DFL Sen. Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis,” the newspaper said. “He quickly moved to amend Schmit’s amendment to take away the $1.6 million Red Wing was given in the bill and redirect it to a study of light-rail transit in Hennepin County.

“‘We can take Sen. Schmit out of his misery, and he doesn’t have to worry about any of the money.’”

Cohen opened another committee meeting the next morning with: “I don’t expect as much drama today as we had last night.” He was right.

Tax bill a surprise

If there was one surprise this legislative session, it may have been broad agreement on several tax issues.

When the Tax Bill 2 agreement was announced Thursday, Democrats and Republicans alike were all smiles on a topic that usually generates heated debate.

When Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, was asked about House provisions in the bill that were not in the Senate bill, he said: “Those were not provisions I supported ... but you have to be willing to give here and there.”

As Gazelka said, that is not something that always happens in the Legislature.

For House members, it may be less about a willingness to work together and more about the fact that this is an election year in each of the 134 House districts. As House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said, tax cuts are good for legislators in an election year.