The North Dakota Legislature did what I thought no legislative session would ever do, at least during my lifetime. Lawmakers, during the recently-completed session, voted to repeal the last vestiges of the blue laws in this state.
With Gov. Doug Burgum’s signature last month, the repeal of what has become known as the Sunday Closing Law becomes effective on Aug. 1. This means that most retail businesses in North Dakota, for the first time since statehood was established in 1889, will be allowed to be open for business at any time of the day on Sunday; rather than after noon.
North Dakota has had a long history with blue laws. When our state first entered the Union, all commerce was prohibited from taking place on Sunday. Over the years, the blue laws have been peeled back here and there in North Dakota at one time or another. Certain exemptions of businesses and activities were made over the years, making them legal to be conducted on Sunday.
The biggest change to date happened in 1991, when the Legislature allowed most businesses to open on Sundays, but not before noon. Since that bill passed with two-thirds majorities in the state House and Senate, the bill became law immediately upon the signature of the now-late Gov. George Sinner. An effort succeeded to place this legislation onto the ballot as a referendum, but the law stayed in place because of its passage with an emergency clause. The voters in 1992 chose to keep the stores open and they rejected the ballot measure to repeal the changes to the blue law.
Which brings us to this year. Fargo state Rep. Shannon Roers-Jones, R-Fargo, became the chief sponsor of the bill to repeal the blue law in North Dakota. Roers-Jones and her House colleagues passed House Bill 1097 by a vote of 56-35. The Senate would follow suit, voting 25-21 to pass the bill, sending it on to the governor for his signature.
This means that the first Sunday on which North Dakota retail businesses may be open at any time of the day will be on Aug. 4th. Having watched the evolution of this debate from the early 1970s through today, I am of the opinion that repeal of the Sunday Closing Law was probably inevitable. It was no longer a question of if, but when it would happen.