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Later bar hours on tap
Cities could allow their bars to stay open until 2 a.m., under a bill passed by the Minnesota Senate on Tuesday. The vote is a significant victory for supporters of extending bar hours, which has been debated at the Capitol for years. They say this could be the year a later bar closing is signed into law.

St. Paul, Minn. — Supporters of a later bar closing cite a couple of reasons. They say Minnesota's current 1 a.m. closing time is earlier than most of its neighboring states, which leads to a dangerous late-night rush across the border to bars that are open later.

Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, says the city has lost conventions to other states because of the earlier bar closing.

"I represent about half of downtown Minneapolis now. But I've always been a person who socialized downtown. And so it has just been a really important issue for me over the years," she said.

Higgins added the later bar hours to a bill granting local liquor licenses. Senators voted 42-to-24 for the change, which would allow city councils to extend closing time.

Opponents say a 2 a.m. closing will result in more drunk driving. Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, says the liquor industry is pushing for the change so bars can make more money.

"And the only way the bars are going to make more money is if they sell more liquor. And if they sell more liquor, that means there's more people drinking, and more people are drinking more. And more people drinking means more drunks and drunker drunks on the road. And more drunks and drunker drunks on the road means more crashes, more injuries and more deaths," according to Skoglund.

"I got news for you, folks. If somebody's going to abuse alcohol now, they're going to figure out a way to do it by 1 a.m. And 2 a.m. isn't going to make it that much more likely," counters Sen. Mark Ourada, R-Buffalo, who says it's "silly" to think a 2 a.m. bar closing will increase alcohol abuse.

He says some people just want to stay out late. Ourada added another amendment to the liquor bill that would extend liquor store hours to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The Senate passed the entire bill by a vote of 51-to-13, and sent it back to the House. Supporters of a later bar closing now have a couple of options. They can hope the provision stays in the bill after it goes to conference committee, or bring it up on the House floor as a separate bill.

The House sponsor of the separate bill, Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, says the prospects look better than they have in recent years. He says many new legislators are open to a later bar closing and haven't already made up their minds on the subject.

"There are some members that I've talked to that I know are going to vote no. They don't really care about the issue; 'it's alcohol, I'm voting no.' And so they make that snap judgment, and I think you get such hard coalitions so it doesn't matter what it is. You know, 'is it a gun bill? I'm either a no or a yes. Don't bother me with the facts.'"

The House and Senate overwhelmingly rejected a 2 a.m. bar close last year, although the Senate narrowly approved later closing times for hotel bars in six cities. Gov. Tim Pawlenty voted against later bar hours as a legislator, but hasn't taken a stand on the issue this year. His spokeswoman says he'll make a decision if it lands on his desk.

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