Attorney General: 11am Sunday Alcohol Sales Are Legal

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Earlier this year state lawmakers passed a law – called the “brunch bill” – allowing for alcohol sales to begin at 11:00am on Sundays.

Or did they?

The bill modified section 05-02-05 of the North Dakota Century Code referencing when booze can be sold on Sundays and changed it from noon to 11:ooam (the change is only for on-sale establishments, not liquor stores).

Except, that’s not the only place in the code where the Sunday booze sales time is referenced. In the very next section of code, 05-02-05.1, we get this in section 3:

sundayopening

The intent of the legislation is clear. Anyone who listened to the debate over HB1434 knows that lawmakers thought they were changing the law to allow on-sale booze transactions to begin an hour earlier. But because the folks who drafted the bill’s language forgot to change this second portion of the code, and because nobody in the Legislature caught it, what they’ve created is a situation where the law is not prohibiting Sunday booze sales starting at 11:00am but also not giving local governments permission to permit those sales.

So Rep. Ben Hanson (D-Fargo) asked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to issue an opinion on this conflict, and Stenehjem says the most recent intent of the Legislature wins out:

www ag.nd.gov-Opinions-2015-Letter-2015-L-10.pdf

Probably the best outcome. It would be a shame if the hospitality industry were forced into limbo because the Legislature didn’t catch a drafting error in their bill. Especially since this was something of a contentious bill which passed by relatively narrow margins.

Still, it always makes me a little nervous when we leave it up to lawyers to interpret ambiguities in the law. In this instance the intent of the legislature was clear, but that’s not always the case, and I tend to believe that we ought to follow the law as written.

Otherwise, we don’t really have rule of law, but rather rule of whatever the politicians say is the law in a specific instance.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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