Allowing bars and restaurants to sell takeaway cocktails and increase the amount of beer and wine people can buy with to-go orders is a way to help the industry hit hard by the pandemic and COVID-related shutdowns.
But it was a no-go at the state Capitol on Monday during the Minnesota Legislature's seventh special session of the year, during which lawmakers passed a $242 million COVID relief bill to help small businesses and extend unemployment.
State leaders previously passed a bill that allows establishments to sell a limited amount of beer and wine with takeout orders.
But proposals that would allow for more flexibility in liquor sales – something the industry has said would help their bottom line – were voted down despite Gov. Tim Walz saying he would sign such a bill.
In the Republican-controlled Senate on Monday, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, offered an amendment to the relief bill that would have doubled the amount of wine and beer someone can buy with a takeout order, allow takeaway cocktails and allow all of the state's craft breweries to sell growlers (under state law, craft breweries are prohibited from selling growlers once they reach a certain size).
"We're saying we want to help small businesses ... but actually what they really want to be able to do is they want to be able to sell their products. They want to be able to sell to a public that wants to buy the product." Pappas said. "And this costs the state absolutely nothing to allow them to do that."
Although the state has provided some limited options for establishments to sell their product, larger craft breweries aren't allowed to sell growlers and microdistilleries aren't allowed to do off-sale, she said. Meanwhile, takeaway cocktails "would really save some of our small restaurants" that are only open for to-go orders, which is "just not enough income for them."
Despite House Republicans being supportive of allowing takeaway cocktails and other temporary changes to the state's liquor laws during the pandemic, Republicans in the Senate opposed the idea.
"We really don't know what the hidden consequences are" if this amendment were to be approved, Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Chair Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said, noting they haven't had any hearings on this and he knows law enforcement isn't supportive of the proposal.
This proposal is billed as the do-all that's going to salvage a lot of things, and "it's not going to do that," Dahms said.
"These changes are drastic changes to the way we currently do our liquor situations," he added. "So, when we start talking about breweries, 'all breweries should have the opportunity to sell growlers,' I'm hardpressed to think that a brewery that ... manufactures maybe 100,000 barrels a year needs to be selling growlers with the system they have through the distribution system they have."
Dahms said breweries' priorities were to get financial help and get relief on some fees, which is provided in the current relief bill. Prior to the special session, the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild encouraged craft beer fans to contact their legislators to ask them to support the relief bill and the amendment that would allow all breweries in the state to sell to-go beer in containers up to 64 ounces.
Dahms said the proposal means a "whole new way of doing business" that's going to "change the liquor industry drastically," adding, "I don't think this is something we should be doing on the floor at the last minute."
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, also opposed the amendment because caucus leaders agreed to not add anything to the relief bill they all agreed to prior to the special session.
Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, took the same stance as Gazelka, but said she supports the spirit of the amendment but because of the deal caucus leaders made "I'm going to keep my word."
Kent questioned why the proposal was never given a hearing, which was a possibility, saying some people don't want to have a conversation about it, "they don't want to deal with it in a transparent and accountable manner," which has led to a proposal like this being introduced on the Senate floor.
"This is a way that we could support their businesses that would not cost taxpayer money," Kent said. "This would be just supporting their normal business activity."
She hoped that they'll have open discussions about issues like this, that matter to the people of Minnesota, in the future.
Pappas' amendment failed on a 35-31 vote.
This isn't that surprising though seeing as the state has a long history of moving slowly when updated the state's antiquated liquor laws – remember the years-long battle to allow liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sundays?