BISMARCK -- The North Dakota House voted by the thinnest of margins Tuesday, Jan. 31, to allow retailers to open on Sunday mornings.
The 48-46 vote was a reversal of the House’s decision Monday, when it rejected a repeal of North Dakota’s Sunday closing law. That statute makes it a Class B misdemeanor to operate a business that’s open to the public before noon Sunday, although exceptions exist for restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other businesses.
Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, asked the House to reconsider the previous day’s vote. He sided against the repeal Monday, but said he had since changed his mind.
“We should let this be up to individuals,” Kempenich said.
Opponents of the repeal said workers deserve some time away from their jobs. Some cited the need for family time, and others opposed the bill on religious grounds.
Those arguments prevailed Monday, when the repeal came four votes short of passing. It almost suffered the same fate Tuesday, but House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said the final two votes flipped two minutes before the afternoon floor session began.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Pamela Anderson, D-Fargo, welcomed legislators’ change of heart.
“Simply put, government shouldn’t tell private businesses when they can and cannot open their doors,” she said in a statement. “Many people have limited time to get their errands and shopping done over the weekend, and allowing retailers to open for business before noon on Sundays is an important step to strengthen North Dakota’s retail sector and overall economy.”
The bill’s passage in the House is one step toward lifting the so-called “blue law” that some lawmakers say is outdated. North Dakota became the last state to allow Sunday shopping in 1991, and last session lawmakers permitted restaurants to start selling alcohol at 11 a.m. instead of noon.
Andy Peterson, president and CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber, said he was “cautiously optimistic” the Senate would support the repeal. In committee testimony last week, he called it a matter of “economic freedom.”
Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, agreed.
“I own my business and if I decide to have it open for two more hours on Sunday, that’s my decision as a business owner, not the government’s,” he said on the House floor Tuesday.