Last call for Minnesota liquor law changes as lawmakers leave them out of final deal

Minnesota lawmakers have left liquor law changes sought by the state's craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries out of a final agreement.

The commerce omnibus bill, one of 14 areas of the state's $52 billion state budget, is among the only major bills finished ahead of next Monday's special session. Lawmakers face a June 30 deadline to pass funding bills or state government shuts down.

A proposed relaxing of the state's liquor laws and a ban on some electronic pull tabs drew public attention this session. The final commerce agreement includes neither of the proposals, House Commerce committee chairman Zack Stephenson said Monday.

Instead, Stephenson said the agreement includes:

  • $400,000 for a catalytic converter anti-theft program. Vehicle owners can get anti-theft markings, such as a vehicle identification number, put on their catalytic converter for free. Buyers, including scrap dealers, would have to record the identifying markings when purchasing a catalytic converter. Thieves target the converters because of their high value, easy access under vehicles, and the lack of trackable markings on them.
  • More than $20 million to put solar arrays on schools, state government buildings and community colleges. It's enough funding to put solar panels on 350 schools, Stephenson said.
  • A student loan bill of rights, which will require loan servicers to apply a borrower's payment to his or her principal. It will ban servicers from certain marketing tactics that tell borrowers that they're eligible for certain programs when they're not.

The proposed liquor law changes have long drawn the most attention in the commerce section of the budget with Minnesota's craft beer scene exploding in recent years.

Producers have long sought to sell growlers, crowlers and larger bottles on site. Restaurant owners have been seeking to sell cocktails-to-go to boost their revenue as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several producers held a news conference Monday with legislative allies to voice their frustration with the lack of movement.

"We’ve got a small number of people who wag their finger at you and say 'No, no, no. No laws are changing today," said state Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia.

The issue is complicated because it involves changes to the decades-old three-tier system that regulates producers, distributors and retailers. The proposal did not get a House or Senate hearing this session.

Stephenson said it was "next on my to-do list" to seek a solution before the 2022 legislative session.

"Some change is inevitable," Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said in an interview. "I think anybody who observes the state’s liquor situation agrees with that, that some change is inevitable."

Another controversial proposal to ban electronic pull tabs that mimic slot machines was jettisoned during budget negotiations in recent weeks.

The issue pitted Native American tribes, which say the pull tabs compete with casino slot machines in ways they were never intended, against bar owners whose businesses have received a boost from the games. House Democrats and Gov. Tim Walz sought the ban, but Senate Republicans blocked any changes.