Sunday beer growlers shot down in Senate

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Lawmakers who support allowing customers to fill beer growlers at tap rooms on Sundays, and take them to go, won a limited victory Tuesday in the Senate. But it was quickly undone, ending prospects for any changes in the state's liquor laws this year.

The growlers provision was originally part of the Senate's omnibus liquor bill, a catch-all measure that also includes extended bar hours during the Major League Baseball all-star game and beer sales in TCF Bank Stadium during Vikings games.

But on Monday the Senate Tax Committee abruptly removed the growler portion from the main liquor bill, after weeks of behind the scenes lobbying by the Teamsters Union.

When the full bill came up for debate Tuesday Republicans complained the Democrats who run the tax committee made the change with very little fanfare, and without much discussion.

"The tax committee removed this provision from the bill in a four minute and 51 second hearing Monday morning, and notice of said meeting was provided via email at 7:41 p.m. on Saturday," Sen. Dave Thompson, a Lakeville Republican and gubernatorial candidate, remarked.

The Teamsters never publicly testified against the bill, but told lawmakers privately that legalizing Sunday growler fills would prompt a major alcohol supplier to re-open labor contracts and renegotiate them.

Critics were skeptical of that explanation, noting that the 64-ounce refillable glass jugs are carried by the customers and don't require any Sunday deliveries of packaged beer or other alcoholic beverage.

"This doesn't impact distribution. This doesn't impact Miller or Budweiser," Sen. Dave Osmek of Mound asserted, explaining his amendment that would've returned the Sunday growler feature to the liquor bill.

"It's just absolutely mind boggling that a simple 64-ounce bottle can't be brought home by customers!"

Sen. Rod Skoe, the tax committee's chairman didn't address that issue during the floor debate, but argued instead that there's no compelling reason that beer drinkers can't plan ahead and fill their growlers on Saturday.

"So you go out on Saturday and go to your local brew pub and pick up your growlers for the big game on Sunday, and you go home and watch the game and drink the two or three growlers that you have," Sen. Skoe told his colleagues.

"What's the point? You can't get through that? You've got to get in your car and go buy some more?"

The leading supporters of the Sunday growler bill, Democrat Roger Reinert of Duluth, has called it a "baby step" toward full legalization of Sunday liquor sales.

Sen. Skoe cited the "baby steps" rhetoric when arguing that Minnesota would gradually edge toward Sunday packaged beer, Sunday wine and eventually Sunday liquor if growlers were allowed to establish a foothold.

That argument drew a sharp response from Sen. Branden Petersen, an Andover Republican.

"The idea is that Senator Skoe knows better about when you ought to be able to go to the store to buy a legal product from people who are voluntarily selling it," Sen. Petersen said.

"God forbid we will go down the slippery slope of people voluntarily exchanging among each other in a product that's already legal."

Osmek's amendment to revive the growlers passed by a two to one margin, essentially undoing the will of the Tax Committee.

Within seconds of Osmek's victory, Sen. David Metzen, a South St. Paul Democrat and chief author of the omnibus liquor bill asked that the bill be tabled, or pulled from consideration.

At that point other Democrats, including some who had supported Osmek's amendment, stood with Metzen and the entire liquor bill was taken down.


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