Initiated ballot measure

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger, left, talks with Brandon Medenwald in his state Capitol office in Bismarck in 2017 after Medenwald delivered the proposed language for an initiated ballot measure to remove the state's Sunday blue laws. The measure would ask voters to repeal and amend the state constitution regarding limited Sunday retail sales of merchandise and hours of operation. Last week the petition drive was dropped and the focus put on legislation to repeal the blue laws.

The Tribune Editorial Board has favored eliminating the remnants of the blue laws in North Dakota for some time. So it was disappointing when a group opposed to the blue laws announced it was switching from an initiated measure effort to reintroducing a bill in the 2019 Legislature.

We think an initiated measure would pass, but legislation could face an uphill battle. The North Dakota Open on Sundays group altered its tactics because it needed to gather another 15,000 signatures in the next five months and didn’t think it could maintain enough volunteers to pull it off. They hope the spotlight they put on the issue during the petition drive, combined with a change in the state Senate membership, will help them get legislation passed.

The state Senate in March 2017 rejected legislation to end the blue laws 22-25. Two of the senators who voted against the bill are retiring and a third is seeking the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

Until the 1980s the state required businesses to stay closed on Sundays, but in 1985 grocery stores were allowed to open. The Legislature in 1991 let most businesses open at noon on Sundays. In 2015, the Legislature allowed restaurants and bars to serve alcohol starting at 11 a.m. on Sundays.

Blue laws were intended to allow families time to rest, relax and attend church. The restrictions were greatly influenced by religion, despite a state Supreme Court ruling saying otherwise. By 1985 much had changed and there have been more societal changes in the 33 years since the first repeal.

The blue laws haven’t kept people from working. Law enforcement, firefighters, medical personnel, restaurant staff, those in the media, farmers and ranchers and many more are on the job.

The time has come to drop the remaining restrictions on Sunday. It’s silly to go to a restaurant on Sunday morning and not be able to buy an item from an adjoining store on the way out because it’s not noon. The law hasn’t allowed an employee to stay home, they are already working at the restaurant.

We should allow businesses to open and close when they want to. We understand regulating the hours of bars, but overall we think the marketplace should determine who opens when and for how long.

Churches have adapted over the years to the changing lifestyles of parishioners by offering alternative services, often on Saturday. There are a lot of demands on our time and some families find it easier to schedule church time when there are more options.

The state Supreme Court has ruled the blue laws weren't intended to aid religion, but rather to set aside a day for "rest and relaxation." As we said in an earlier editorial, we don't believe it's the state's responsibility or right to decide when we relax. That should be an individual decision.

While the Legislature doesn’t convene until next January, we urge legislators to quickly change the law when they meet.

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