One of the more impassioned bills of the 2019 Legislative Session is set to be heard in the Senate Political Subdivisions Committee tomorrow morning at 8:30am. It is House Bill 1097, which is sponsored by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R – District 46). This legislation seeks to repeal what some people refer to as North Dakota’s “Blue Laws” or “Sunday Closing Laws”.
The North Dakota Legislature had the opportunity to repeal the Blue Laws in the last legislative session, but that bill — House Bill 1163 — took some interesting turns. Initially, HB 1163 was defeated in the House – where it originated – by a vote of 44 – 50. But upon reconsideration the following day, it passed by a two-vote margin of 48 – 46. It was then defeated in the Senate by a vote of 22 – 25.
In the aftermath of its defeat in 2017, a group known as “North Dakota Open on Sundays” organized an effort to gather signatures for a ballot measure to end the Blue Laws. The leader of that effort was Fargo businessman and Sponsoring Committee Chairman, Brandon Medenwald. After collecting 5,000 signatures — and citing the “big lift” of meeting their goal of 20,000 with just 5 months to deadline — Medenwald gave up the petition drive in favor of renewing attempts to repeal the laws legislatively in the 2019 session.
The decision to give up on the ballot measure didn’t come without criticism. Medenwald had announced his own candidacy, as a Democrat, for District 41 House around the same time the signature drive was scrapped. This led some to speculate that the petition drive was used as a means of bolstering his own candidacy. Regardless, Medenwald ended up failing in his bid for the legislature, as he came in third out of four candidates.
A month after North Dakota Open on Sundays scrapped their signature efforts, Rep. Roers Jones announced that she would be introducing her own legislation to repeal the Blue Laws. That was February of 2018. Fast forward to January of 2019 and Roers Jones advocated for passage of her bill before a packed committee room. After an 11-2 Do Pass recommendation from the House Business and Labor Committee, the bill went to the floor for a vote where, after a spirited debate, it passed on a vote of 56-35.
As I’ve expressed before, the best way to handle the Blue Laws is to eliminate them. Remember, governments should only be empowered to do those things that the people they represent have the power to do themselves. And since we do not have the right to dictate to our neighbors when they can or cannot open their businesses, then the state shouldn’t be dictating it either.
As previously mentioned, HB 1097 will be heard Thursday morning at 8:30am by the Senate Political Subdivisions Committee. We encourage you to let your voice be heard by contacting your senators. You can find their contact information here.
If you’d like to see a history of the Blue Laws, together with some of the oddities that exist in them, you can view this video created by the North Dakota Open on Sundays campaign.
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