The North Dakota House of Representatives defeated a bill on Wednesday, sponsored by Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, that would have empowered local governments to decide if allowing retail businesses to open on Sunday morning was the right thing for their community. The bill was HB 1437, and added the following key language to Century Code regarding retail operations on Sunday, sometimes referred to as “Blue Laws”:

“The sale or rental of items for which the governing body of a city or county, by ordinance or other special authorization, has specifically authorized the sale or rental to take place before twelve noon on Sunday.”

Opening times for retail has been a thorn in the side of the state for many years, and North Dakota is one of the last states to impose this degree of regulation on businesses. Becker did not go for a 100% repeal, but instead chose to allow local governments the opportunity to practice local control in 1437; an argument the Legislature has used before when deciding not to take action. Yet for some reason, on an issue where local control really should rest solely on the shoulders of a business owner versus state or local government bodies, the Legislature elected to sustain their practice of centralized economic planning when it comes to retail hours of operation.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment was the NDGOP, which proved once again they are the party of free market principles — except when they aren’t. The votes broke down as follows:

R- Anderson; Beadle; Becker; Boehning; Brabandt; Hawken; Johnson, N.; Keiser; Kreun; Louser; Maragos; Martinson; Nelson, J.; Streyle; Sukut; Thoreson

D- Boschee; Delmore; Gruchalla; Guggisberg; Haak; Hanson; Hogan; Kelsh, J.; Kelsh, S.; Mock; Mooney; Oversen; Strinden; Zaiser

R- Bellew; Belter; Brandenburg; Carlson; Damschen; Delzer; Dockter; Dosch; Drovdal; Frantsvog; Froseth; Grande; Hatlestad; Headland; Heilman; Heller; Hofstad; Johnson, D.; Karls; Kasper; Kempenich; Kiefert; Klein; Klemin; Koppelman, B.; Koppelman, K.; Kreidt; Kretschmar; Laning; Larson; Looysen; Meier; Monson; Nathe; Owens; Paur; Pollert; Porter; Rohr; Ruby; Rust; Sanford; Schatz; Schmidt; Silbernagel; Skarphol; Steiner; Toman; Trottier; Vigesaa; Wall; Weisz; Wieland; Speaker Devlin

D- Amerman; Glassheim; Holman; Hunskor; Muscha; Nelson, M.; Onstad; Williams

It’s pretty bad when a large percentage of the party of business and opportunity vote against letting businesses have the opportunity to open early if they feel it is the right decision for them. Some of the arguments presented in floor debate by representatives also made one scratch their head and wonder if they meant to go to a convention in Grand Forks last year, but accidentally showed up in Bismarck.

The floor debate went for close to 30 minutes, and presented some rather puzzling arguments against granting local control on Sunday opening.

Rep. Don Vigesaa argued leaving the law in place was important to protect businesses in rural communities (he happens to own one) from the malls in the larger ones, yet his counterpart from the right Rep. Chuck Damschen argued just previously that he wasn’t sure how being open just a few hours earlier would make any noticeable economic difference. House Majority Leader Al Carlson argued that there already is an employee shortage, so filling the extra hours would be problematic for some businesses. But, isn’t that a problem for a business that chooses to open early on Sundays to deal with, rather than state government? After all, you probably shouldn’t be in business if you try to open your store without enough staff to run it.

Rep. Kim Koppelman made the point that the bill would not change the hours for businesses such as car dealerships. What he failed to point out is current Blue Laws also allow some other types of businesses, such as restaurants and convenience stores, to be open early on Sundays. Is family time (a foundation of the argument against retail stores opening early on Sundays) not as important to the employees of those types of businesses? If we are going to forbid one type of business to open early on Sundays, shouldn’t they all be forbidden from doing so?

Businesses are smart enough to know when they should and should not be open. This is not a matter for the state or even local governments to decide. The NDGOP failed (again) to live up to the expectation that it was the party of free markets and freeing those markets of ridiculous regulation. Dictating Sunday hours of operation in 2013 is ridiculous regulation, and the 63rd Legislative Assembly missed their opportunity to fix that. The NDGOP also proved once again they have a foundation made of Jello when it comes to those free market principles.