Petition would end North Dakota Sunday shopping restrictions
By JAMES MacPHERSON
Jul. 18, 2017
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A group headed by a Fargo software company owner began an effort Tuesday to repeal the state's longstanding Sunday business restrictions that are rooted in religious tradition.
"It needs to go away," Brandon Mendenwald said of the state's so-called blue laws that ban retail shopping before noon. "You can buy a can of soup on Sunday morning but that store would be breaking the law by selling you a can opener to open it."
Secretary of State Al Jaeger said he is reviewing the ballot initiative. His office and the attorney general's staff have up to seven days to review the proposal and draft petition language. Then the people behind the effort could start gathering signatures.
Mendenwald said his 27-member group hopes to put it on the November 2018 ballot. Proponents would need to collect about 13,450 signatures to force a vote.
The Republican-led Legislature has defeated several measures over the years to end the Sunday morning shopping prohibition, most recently in March when it was defeated by the Senate.
North Dakota's Constitution allows voters to bypass the Legislature and put and issue directly to a vote if the proposal's supporters can gather enough petition signatures. It's the first time that the repeal on Sunday shopping restrictions would go to voters.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says about a dozen states have some form of Sunday sales laws, but only North Dakota prohibits shopping on Sunday morning.
In 2015 the Legislature voted to allow restaurants and bars to begin serving alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays, instead of noon. Proponents said North Dakota's booze restrictions put cities bordering other states at a disadvantage because those states allow for earlier sales on Sundays.
Mendenwald said that argument should be applied to all Sunday sales.
"If it's true for alcohol, it should be true for everything," he said.
The state Supreme Court has twice upheld the ban, once in the mid-1960s and again in the early 1990s. The state's high court, in similar conclusions, ruled that the law was not to aid religion, but rather to set aside a day for "rest and relaxation."
Mendenwald said many professions — from police officers and nurses to fast food cooks — have to work Sundays.
"One size does not fit all," he said.
North Dakota slowly has relaxed its blue laws over the years, including those aimed at Sunday shopping. North Dakota law once required most businesses to stay closed on Sundays, but that was changed in 1985 to allow grocery stores to open. The Legislature in 1991 allowed most businesses to open on Sundays but they couldn't open their doors before noon.
This story has been corrected to show that the petition is being reviewed, and has not yet been approved to circulate.