COMMERCE

COVID-19 bills passed

Senate DFLers have been looking for ways to help Minnesota’s small business, including restaurants, to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the ways we’ve done this is by passing a bill allowing restaurants to offer wine and beer sales with take-out food orders.

The bill allows establishments with on-sale liquor licenses to sell wine, beer, hard seltzer, and cider as off-sale in addition to their takeout food sales for the duration of the peacetime emergency. The alcoholic beverage must be sold in the original, unopened packaging and must be limited to 72 oz in total of beer, seltzer, and cider and 750 milliliters of wine per order. Establishments must require proof of age, and municipalities may vote to prohibit these sales in their jurisdiction. Establishments that choose to partake in this must inform their insurance provider.

While restaurants have appreciated the flexibility, there are concerns from other liquor retailers that the same flexibility isn’t being offered to them. A number of microbreweries and microdistilleries have been asking for temporary relaxing of various liquor laws they must adhere to, such as the limit on how much micro-distilleries can sell and allowing microbreweries to off-sale even if they don’t have a license until the stay-at-home order is lifted. Some of those businesses are seeing this as an affront or favoritism of some sorts as standards are relaxed for some but not others.

Allowing restaurants to offer takeout wine and beer is a small but powerful way to help our restaurants. Senate DFLers are continuing to look for ways to help all of our small businesses survive through this pandemic. (SF 4489)

COVID-19 bills that didn’t pass

Alternative sales for breweries

A number of microbrewery advocates asked for temporary changes to state law this session that would help them get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of these changes would be allowing breweries to sell their product in packaging other than the growlers or crowlers (a growler in can form), such as six-packs. Sales and foot traffic are down as a result of COVID-19, and some breweries are having to dump their beer as it doesn’t have the same shelf life as hard alcohol. Selling four-or-six-packs would allow these microbreweries to move their product, and advocates say filling these four-or-six-packs is more efficient than filling crowlers or growlers.

There are some concerns that allowing this alternative packaging would negatively affect small liquor stores and threatens to disrupt the state’s three-tier alcohol system.

Stakeholders have been unable to find a compromise or agreement on this issue, so no legislation was passed this session. The issue will continue to be discussed as Senate DFLers look for ways for our state’s small businesses to get through this pandemic. It’s possible this issue comes up again if there is a special session this year.

Non-COVID items passed

Liquor bill

The Legislature passed a liquor bill this year that granted licenses to a number of local establishments and festivals. Nothing controversial was included in the bill.

(Offices may want to mention if there was a provision for their district included)

The bill allows local establishments, including golf courses and sports arenas, to bring in new revenue as COVID-19 is taking a toll on business.The bill is yet another way Senate DFLers are looking to boost the economy during this pandemic. (SF 2130)

Money transfers

State law currently requires fund transfer services to transmit funds sent within five days, with no exception. However, that often doesn’t leave companies enough time to investigate fraud when transactions seem suspicious. The Legislature passed a bill this session that would allow more flexibility in these transactions to protect against fraud or suspicious activity.

The bill allows wire transfer services such as PayPal, Venmo, Cash App, and others to hold fund sent if the sender requests it, if there is reason to believe the transfer is involved with or may result in a crime, or if the transfer is for goods or services. The bill allows these companies enough time to ensure the transfer was a legitimate request and that the funds are being transferred to the correct individual. (SF 3800)

Prevention financial exploitation of seniors

Attempts at fraud and financial exploitation have become more popular as finances have moved online, and these exploits are often aimed at those that are more vulnerable. Seniors are particularly targeted by these scams, which take several forms – from someone pretending to be a grandchild needing assistance to Medicare and health care scams.

Senate DFLers have been working to reduce this fraud and protect our seniors. The Legislature passed a bill this session that permits financial service providers to notify the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center when there is suspicion of financial exploitation.

The bill also requires financial services providers to delay a disbursement or hold a transaction if provided evidence by the Department of Commerce, law enforcement, or an attorney’s office that there is evidence of financial exploitation.

Senate DFLers are committed to protecting all Minnesotans, including our older and vulnerable adults. We are constantly exploring ways to keep one step ahead of those that try to exploit Minnesotans, and this bill will assist the financial industry in doing just that. (SF 2466)

Non-COVID bills not passed

Lift on growler cap

Minnesota passed a bill in 2013 that paved the way for micro-breweries in the state. The legislation, however, capped the number of barrels a brewery could brew before it was no longer able to sell growlers at 20,000. A number of the state’s microbreweries are doing well and meet or exceed this cap each year.

An amendment was offered on the floor in 2019 that would remove the 20,000 cap, but it was withdrawn before it could be voted on. The issue was not taken up this session because of COVID-19, but breweries are still facing this cap so the issue will likely show up next session. 

Distillery cap and distribution limits

Minnesota law limits distilleries to a 40,000-proof gallon production cap. As microdistilleries continue to grow, many local distillers are running up against that cap.

Distilleries in Minnesota are also limited in the amount of spirits they can sell to a person – one 375 milliliter bottle a day. The distillery industry is heavily dependent on bottle sales. Advocates believe these limits are hurting the microdistillery industry. COVID-19 interrupted much of the work of the Commerce Committee and nothing was heard on the issue this session, but it is likely to show up next session.

Brewstilleries

State statute bans the operation of a microbrewery and microdistillery in the same space. There is at least one brewstillery – a microbrewery and micro distillery in one – that wants to see this law changed. As microbreweries and microdistilleries continue to expand in Minnesota it is likely the desire to see this law changed will also expand. While the pandemic put a hold on conversations around the state’s liquor laws this session, the issue will likely return next session.

Wine and beer in grocery stores

Minnesota is the last state in the country to see 3.2 beer – a beer with a lower ABV that can be sold in the state’s grocery stores and gas stations. A bill that would allow beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores and gas stations and eliminate the need for 3.2 beer has been introduced, but the focus of the Commerce Committee narrowed greatly this session because of the pandemic so the committee didn’t hear the bill. It is expected this issue will return next session.

Net neutrality

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) ruled in favor of net neutrality in 2015. Net neutrality is the principle that prevents internet service providers from slowing down, speeding up, or blocking any content, applications, or websites from its consumers. Net neutrality prevents internet companies from charging businesses for the privilege of faster speed support for their websites and ensures that websites with less traffic or financial ability to pay for faster speed support are protected.

In 2017, the FCC overturned the 2015 ruling, eliminating net neutrality protections for consumers. Many states have sued over this ruling, and others are working on legislation to protect consumers.

A federal appeals court upheld the 2017 FCC ruling, but the court also ruled that states could pass their own laws regarding net neutrality. House DFLers passed a net neutrality bill last session, but Republicans in the Senate have argued that states can’t and shouldn’t set their own net neutrality laws. The court opinion has given strength to legislation introduced by Senate DFLers.

The internet is an essential service for all Minnesotans. The decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to hinder open internet protections will place many Minnesotans at an unfair economic and educational disadvantage, harm small businesses, and reduce Minnesota’s ability to compete in an ever-growing global market.

Senate Republicans have refused to act on net neutrality, putting open internet access at risk for Minnesotans. Senate DFLers are committed to protecting the internet as it helps to ensure that the economy works for all Minnesotans.

Right to repair

Minnesota was among 23 states that had Right to Repair legislation introduced in 2019. The basic belief behind the bill is that once a constituent owns an electronic, or an item with an electronic component, they should have the right to repair it, and that requires having access to the information needed to repair it. The bill covers everything from cell phones and tablets to cars and tractors. Manufacturers right now aren’t required to provide information about their goods, including parts and diagnostic software. This has led to frustration from farmers, independent mechanics, and consumers who believe they purchased the right to repair an item when they purchased the item.

While Governor Walz had said he was interested in the bill, the Commerce Committee was unable to hear it as the agenda was drastically changed by the pandemic. The bill may show up again next year.

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