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ND Senate votes against repeal of Sunday morning closing law

BISMARCK -- North Dakota senators voted down a bill that would have allowed retailers to open on Sunday mornings. Current state law makes it a Class B misdemeanor to operate a business that's open to the public before noon on Sunday, but exceptio...

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Patrons browse stores at West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo. Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK -- North Dakota senators voted down a bill that would have allowed retailers to open on Sunday mornings.

Current state law makes it a Class B misdemeanor to operate a business that’s open to the public before noon on Sunday, but exceptions exist for restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other businesses. A repeal of most of that law failed in the Senate 22-25 Tuesday, March 14.

Proponents of the legislation, which included the Greater North Dakota Chamber, said it was a matter of giving business owners the right to choose when to open their doors. Opponents have argued workers need time to spend with families, with some standing against the repeal on religious grounds.

“We need that day to rejuvenate our mind, our spirit and our body,” said Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr, who cited religious arguments against the bill. “I look at this bill as being nothing more than just selfish consumerism.”

In a wide-ranging speech against the repeal that touched on Christianity, Humanism, last year’s presidential election and the separation of church and state, Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, argued “the value of Sunday morning is not in the profits that roll through the cash registers,” but rather in the time spent with family and away from the “hustle and the bustle.”

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Sen. Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah, pointed to the 39 exceptions to the Sunday sales prohibition in arguing there should be a level playing field for businesses. She said people can choose how to practice their religion.

“This bill isn’t about religious freedom,” Unruh said. “This is about freedom … that allows all businesses to make the decision whether or not to offer their services Sunday morning, not just a select few.”

The repeal, introduced by Rep. Pamela Anderson, D-Fargo, was voted down in the House in late January before being reconsidered and passed by one vote a day later. The bill the Senate considered would have left in place a section of law preventing a retailer from being required to open on Sunday as part of a lease agreement.

Tuesday’s vote came a week after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill allowing liquor stores to open on Sunday, resolving a longstanding debate in that state. North Dakota became the last state to allow Sunday shopping in 1991, and lawmakers last session authorized restaurants to start selling alcohol at 11 a.m. instead of noon on Sundays.

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Patrons browse stores at West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo. Forum News Service file photo

Related Topics: RETAIL
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