Sunday morning booze bill advances to North Dakota governor's desk

In a narrow vote, House lawmakers voted to push the start time for Sunday alcohol sales to 8 a.m., possibly rolling back a remnant of North Dakota's historic "blue laws."

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An employee stocks a cooler at Williquors in Bismarck on July 1. Adam Willis / The Forum

BISMARCK — A bill to authorize bars, restaurants and liquor stores to sell alcohol early on Sunday mornings advanced after a narrow vote in the North Dakota House on Friday, March 26, sending it to the governor's desk.

If signed into law, Senate Bill 2220 would push the start time for Sunday booze sales up to 8 a.m. Currently, restaurants and bars can't serve alcohol until 11 a.m. on Sundays, while liquor stores can't sell alcohol until noon. The bill cleared the House in a 49-41 vote.

North Dakota's Sunday alcohol rule is a holdover from its once-strict "blue laws," which have been on the books since the state's founding in 1889. Over the last decade, lawmakers have loosened these regulations, but restrictions on Sunday morning alcohol sales remained in place even after lawmakers voted to allow other businesses to operate on Sunday mornings in 2019.

Though the bill received an 8-4 "Do Not Pass" recommendation out of its committee and met opposition from many lawmakers concerned about the potential harm to social and family values, arguments that an expansion to Sunday alcohol sales times would boost state commerce prevailed on Friday.

Many in North Dakota's conservative Legislature opposed the expansion of Sunday alcohol sales out of concern that it would encroach on church and family time.


"I think it's ironic that this is the first bill we're talking about after the prayer," said Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, who likened the Sunday alcohol rules to a reverse of the famous Biblical story in which Jesus chased merchants and money changers out of the temple.

"This bill lets them back into the temple," he said.

But Rep. Michael Howe, R-West Fargo, pushed against claims that the change could exacerbate North Dakota's longstanding alcoholism troubles, noting a restriction on commerce during a small window of the week can't stop anyone from drinking in their homes during those hours.

The bill, which was brought by Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, initially failed on the Senate side before being revived to clear the upper chamber by the razor thin margin of just two votes. Meyer said he introduced the bill in part to benefit businesses that have taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at

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