Sunday, July 23, 2017

It’s time for N.D. to end the blue laws

Jul 21, 2017

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger, left, talks with Brandon Medenwald in his state Capitol office in Bismarck after Medenwald delivered the proposed language for an initiated ballot measure to remove the state's Sunday blue laws. The measure would ask voters to repeal and amend the state constitution regarding limited Sunday retail sales of merchandise and hours of operation. Medenwald, committee chairman for the initiated measure, said once the language is approved by Jaeger's office, volunteers will seek about 20,000 signatures of the 13,000 needed by July 9, 2018, to be on the November 2018 ballot. MIKE MCCLEARY, TRIBUNE

An effort is underway to get a measure on the November 2018 ballot to repeal the state’s remaining blue laws. Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office is reviewing the proposal and draft petition language. If approved, organizers can begin circulating petitions. About 13,450 signatures are needed to get the measure on ballot.

The 2017 Legislature rejected efforts to repeal the remaining Sunday restrictions. The Tribune Editorial Board believes voters will, and should, approve the measure.

The state has slowly whittled away at the blue laws. Until the 1980s the state required businesses to stay closed on Sundays, but in 1985 grocery stores were allowed to open. The Legislature in 1991 let most businesses open at noon on Sundays. In 2015, the Legislature allowed restaurants and bars to serve alcohol starting at 11 a.m. on Sundays.

Blue laws were intended to allow families time to rest, relax and attend church. The restrictions were greatly influenced by religion, despite a state Supreme Court ruling saying otherwise. By 1985 much had changed and there have been more societal changes in the 32 years since the first repeal.

Many people had to work despite the blue laws. Law enforcement, firefighters, medical personnel, restaurant staff, those in the media, farmers and ranchers and many more were on the job. The laws didn’t keep people home, they just made life more inconvenient. For years residents had to wait until Monday to buy simple items like a lightbulb if they ran out.

Since the laws have been modified society has adapted to the changes. Many churches offer alternative services, often on Saturday. It allows members of the congregation who might be working on Sunday or otherwise occupied to attend a service.

Ending the blue laws doesn’t mean businesses have to open. There are some that choose to remain closed on Sunday even though they can open at noon. We realize there are businesses that will open because they don’t want to give an edge to their competitors. That’s the marketplace at work.

We also believe people, especially families, need to find time for themselves. That has become increasingly difficult because of the many demands on our time. Children today are involved in school activities, church events, scouting and similar organizations. Scheduling for a family can be a part-time job.

The state Supreme Court has ruled the blue laws weren’t intended to aid religion, but rather to set aside a day for "rest and relaxation."
We don’t believe it’s the state’s responsibility or right to decide when we relax. In these hectic times that’s an individual decision. If things go as expected, voters can decide in November 2018 if they think the blue laws have run their course.

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