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Question of the Month ~ March 2015


Q. What “blue laws” are still in place in the Midwestern states?

“Blue laws” date back centuries and typically place restrictions or bans on certain Sunday activities. Today, they mostly target some type of economic activity, such as liquor or retail sales. Indiana and Minnesota, for example, are among the 12 U.S. states that still ban the retail sale of alcohol on Sundays, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. (Kansas and Ohio are among the 16 states that have repealed their bans since 2002.)
The two states’ decades-old bans have once again been the focus of legislative proposals this year. Minnesota’s SF 265/HF 231 would repeal the state law that bans retail, carry-out sales of alcohol, and as of February, the bill’s proponents said the measure was gaining momentum inside the Capitol. But in late February, Indiana’s HB 1624 — an attempt to end the state’s Sunday sales ban — failed to make it out of the House, in part due to opposition over proposed restrictions on retailers (for example, keeping hard liquor behind the counter and limiting displays to designated areas).
Bans on alcohol sales were once much more common. For example, prohibitions on Election Day sales are largely gone, with South Carolina now the only state with an outright ban. And only five states (none in the Midwest) still prevent retail stores from providing their customers with alcohol tastings. In 2012, Kansas repealed its restrictions on these tastings.
States, though, continue to have Sunday restrictions on when alcohol can be sold. In North Dakota, for example, restaurants cannot begin serving until noon; HB 1434 would allow service to begin at 11 a.m.
When it comes to retail sales, North Dakota has among the most extensive blue laws in the country. For example, while stores can be open on Sunday, many items cannot be sold between midnight and noon — from clothing, housewares and linens, to appliances, hardware and computers. As a result, most retail stores in North Dakota do not open until noon.
Current state law in North Dakota also protects retail businesses (as part of any lease, franchise or other contractual agreement) from having to open on Sundays. Under SB 2208, those protections would be extended to Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Thirteen U.S. states, meanwhile, continue to ban or restrict the Sunday sale of motor vehicles, and seven of those states are in the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. (Michigan’s ban provides an exemption for counties with fewer than 130,000 people.) Illinois (SB 1780) and Minnesota (HF 347) are among the states with active bills to repeal the ban on Sunday auto sales.


Article written by Laura Tomaka, CSG Midwest senior program manager. Question of the Month highlights an inquiry received by CSG Midwest through its Information Help Line.