'Unsession' may remove outdated
laws, except liquor store prohibition
Monday, March 17, 2014 10:52 AM
You can't drive a car in neutral in Minnesota. You're probably thinking you can't drive a car in neutral anywhere because it defies physics. However, in Minnesota there has been a law on the books since 1937 that makes it a crime.
State law also dictates that the Commerce Department is responsible for regulating insurance policies sold through vending machines. Another law requires the state agriculture commissioner to personally track down and capture any wild boars that run loose in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Those are just a few examples of some of the silly laws on the books in Minnesota. Gov. Mark Dayton has called for an "unsession" this legislative session to weed out outdated laws, a type of spring cleaning.
It could be a pretty big job. For example, there are more state laws regulating the telegraph industry than there are laws regulating the Internet.
Action taken as a result of the unsession wouldn't just remove unused laws. Changes could have an impact on consumers. For example, there are several state statutes that make phone bills longer.
Dayton's proposal would also streamline government functions.
He is calling for the government to take no longer than 90 days to process environmental permits in most cases. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine has submitted 38 proposals from his agency that he thinks could lead to faster turnaround in permit applications without weakening environmental standards.
Dayton would also like to see legislation this session to repeal 37 advisory panels, task forces and councils that exist in law, but no longer serve a purpose. Another goal is to adjust the tax system so that it is simpler and easier to understand.
In conjunction with this plan, Dayton signed an executive order requiring agency leaders to communicate with the public in plain language. The order instructs all state-run agencies to get rid of jargon, acronyms, run-on sentences and words like whereas and therefore to make government easier for everyone to understand.
Many of the changes that come about this legislative session as a result of the unsession proposal will have little drama - although Republicans have chimed in that they would like to undo many of the tax increases and other laws the DFL enacted last session.
One law on the books that isn't specifically part of the unsession proposal, but many people want removed, prohibits sales of liquor on Sunday. Minnesota is one of 12 states, most of them in the Deep South, that doesn't allow liquor stores to open on Sundays.
Liquor is a product more highly regulated than most, but the ban on Sunday sales isn't due to safety issues. Instead, the ban harkens back to a different time when blue laws were the norm and Prohibition was still a recent issue.
A change in this law has bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. It also has some nuances. Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, unveiled a proposal recently with seven possibilities, ranging from full repeal to local options for restrictions, much like the structure for municipalities to regulate, if they choose, alcohol sales at bars on Sundays.
One of the options, a tongue-in-cheek way of pointing out the silliness of the law, is to ban liquor sales on Saturday instead of Sunday.
Although polls show a majority of Minnesotans of both parties support removal of the ban, the proposal is being fought by liquor stores, which adds to the bizarre nature of the issue.
The fight is based on competition, not common sense. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association has worked hard against lifting the ban, saying it would burden small liquor stores that would be forced to stay open to compete, paying labor costs while not increasing overall sales.
Not all in the industry agree with the association. Store owners near the border say surrounding states, all which allow Sunday sales, are cleaning up at the expense of Minnesota establishments.
Obviously, this is more than a simple spring cleaning decision. The issue has come up in previous legislative sessions and it is estimated that more than $1 million has been spent on lobbyists over the years.
In the small towns where the majority of our readers live, the issue isn't a burning one. There is only one liquor store, if that many, in a town, so competition isn't such an issue despite the proximity to Iowa and Wisconsin. Besides, many small town stores that sell other wares aren't open on Sundays even though they have the choice.
Still, if the unsession is truly about removing outdated laws, then the ban on liquor sales should be included. The decision to open a store on a certain day of the week should be a business decision, not based on compliance with an outdated state law.