Lawmakers strike liquor deal; big brewers can sell growlers

The end-of-session sprint at the Minnesota Legislature has yielded its first major deal: liquor.

Lawmakers have agreed to the biggest rewrite of the state's liquor laws since Sunday sales became legal in 2017. The changes will allow Minnesota's big brewers to sell growlers in their taprooms. Smaller breweries and distilleries will also see benefits.

The agreement sailed unanimously through a legislative conference committee on Thursday. Votes in the full House and Senate are expected before the session ends on Monday.

"We won’t be the last state in the country that won’t be allowed to sell growlers," state Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater and a member of the conference committee, told reporters. "So I’m happy about that."

The deal announced Thursday allows breweries to sell growlers until they hit a production cap of 150,000 barrels. Under current law, the cap is 20,000 barrels. Five breweries - Summit, Schells, Surly, Castle Danger, and Fulton - are above the current cap, while others are approaching it.

Smaller breweries would be allowed to sell four- and six-packs to go, up to a 128-ounce daily limit per customer. Distilleries could sell larger 750 milliliter bottles from their cocktail rooms.

There are other changes, too. Bars can stay open for extended hours during World Cup games. Town Team Baseball organizations can get licenses to sell strong beer at games.

Some provisions that passed the Minnesota House this month fell out of the final deal. An industry panel to decide future liquor law changes is out. So too is a measure allowing 17 year olds to serve alcohol.

Tax bill coming

Liquor was the first deal out of the gate, but top lawmakers said a $4 billion tax bill is coming soon.

The final agreement will not include rebate checks, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller said. Checks of $500 per adult have been a key priority of Gov. Tim Walz.

"I have heard there’s significant progress being made and I have not heard anything related to any sort of rebate check to Minnesotans," Miller, R-Winona, told reporters.

Instead, legislative leaders have said the agreement will have a combination of income tax cuts and targeted credits to renters and others. A bill had not been made public as of Thursday evening.

K-12 education, public safety

Other budget areas have moved more slowly. Lawmakers have not yet agreed how to split up $1 billion in new money for public schools or $450 million for public safety.

Walz told reporters at the Capitol that he expected the Legislature would send him bills by Sunday night's deadline.

"All looking solid, all coming together, all on track," Walz said.

In K-12 education, lawmakers have been debating how much of the $1 billion to spend closing a gap between what school districts are federally mandated to spend on special education services and the state funding they receive. There is agreement between the House and Senate that the gap, called the special education cross-subsidy, needs to be addressed.

The public safety conference committee has been at a stalemate over how much new funding should go toward police recruitment and retention efforts versus community nonviolence work. Similarly, there is disagreement over the Senate Republicans' proposals to increase criminal penalties for a number of crimes, including fentanyl possession and sales.