Brandon Medenwald: Repeal North Dakota’s Blue Laws

North Dakotans will have the opportunity to sign a statewide petition to place a repeal of the Sunday Closing Law, more commonly known as the Blue Law, on the ballot in November 2018. I would like to take this opportunity to outline why we believe that the time has come to let North Dakotans choose for themselves when to rest, worship, work, and shop.

North Dakota’s current prohibition on Sunday morning shopping is arcane, unfair and unenforceable.

The Blue Law is arcane and unenforceable because few understand it’s a “Swiss cheese” law. It contains a list of 44 different items that cannot be sold by any businesses on Sunday mornings, even those that are allowed to be open. This list includes kitchenware and utensils, china and silverware, electric fans, clocks, and mirrors. Every Sunday in our state, thousands of citizens aid and abet businesses in violating this law unknowingly. Did you know that if you shop at a grocery store on Sunday morning, you can buy a can of soup but it is illegal for the store to sell you a can opener? Yet, people do it all the time.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]The Blue Law is arcane and unenforceable because few understand it’s a “Swiss cheese” law. It contains a list of 44 different items that cannot be sold by any businesses on Sunday mornings, even those that are allowed to be open.[/mks_pullquote]

The current law is unfair because not everyone has Sunday morning off or wants Sunday morning off. What about people who need to work Sunday morning, like those in our vital industries like hospitals and nursing homes?

What about people who would prefer to work Sunday mornings to allow other times for family, school or activities?

What about people who worship Wednesdays, Fridays, or Saturdays and would prefer to get their errands done early? We believe the current law’s one-size-fits-all approach excludes quite a number of our citizens.

Government should not be in the business of mandating when people rest, when families spend time together, and when businesses do business.

North Dakota doesn’t dictate to farmers when to farm, hospitals when to practice medicine, or restaurants when to feed people. We are simply asking that all businesses, not just a chosen few, be allowed that same freedom.

To be clear: repealing the Blue Law does not force businesses to open on Sunday mornings. To the contrary, repealing this law allows those that wish to open to do so while permitting those that wish to close to do so. Repealing this law also does not force consumers to patronize these businesses on Sunday morning. All people have the freedom to choose how to spend their own time.

Our measure will repeal the Blue Law and the morass of carve-outs and exemptions. Our measure leaves intact the rules regarding alcohol and automotive sales, which are controlled by different areas of the Century Code.

Our measure also protects retail businesses in leases signed before 2019 from being forced to open earlier on Sunday mornings. This means no business owner in a mall will be forced to open earlier against their will, and when their leases are up they can negotiate with their landlords like they always do.

We trust that the citizens of North Dakota can choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their businesses. We ask for the support of citizens across our great state and look forward to meeting you all as our volunteer group collects the 20,000 signatures we aim for over the coming year.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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