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080319-nws-sunday-sales

Ryan Barth, general manager and owner of Bill Barth Ford-Kia in Mandan, said Sunday the vehicle sales ban allows time off for employees and, if repealed, wouldn't substantially increase sales.

North Dakota's blue laws are off the books, but two Sunday restrictions remain.

Retail businesses may now open before noon Sunday. The 2019 Legislature passed a repeal bill brought by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, and it took effect Aug. 1. The blue laws had essentially banned Sunday shopping from midnight to noon.

But motor vehicle sales are still prohibited all day on Sundays. The dispensing of alcohol is banned from 2-11 a.m. Sundays, and off-sale of liquor isn't allowed from 2 a.m. to noon Sundays. Alcohol sales are prohibited from 2-8 a.m. on weekdays.

Violations of those laws bring misdemeanor penalties as severe as jail terms and fines.

The vehicle and alcohol sales restrictions are separate from the repealed blue laws. Vehicle sales are part of code for motor vehicle dealer licensing. Alcohol sales are restricted under retail licensing of alcoholic beverages.

Roers Jones said the repeal bill was bound to be difficult to pass, and she didn't want Sunday vehicle and alcohol sales "convoluting the issue or causing it to fail."

She considered separate legislation for those but spoke with auto dealers who she said opposed a repeal of the Sunday vehicle sales ban.

"I just decided that I wasn't going to try to tackle those issues during this session," Roers Jones said.

The repeal bill passed 56-35 in the House and 25-21 in the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Doug Burgum. A similar bill in 2017 had failed by just two votes in the Senate after passing the House.

The Sunday vehicle sales ban allows time off for employees and, if repealed, wouldn't substantially increase sales, according to Ryan Barth, general manager and owner of Bill Barth Ford-Kia in Mandan. 

And everything from financing to insurance verification to clarification on a sales incentive or promotion would be harder or impossible on a Sunday, said Rep. Don Vigesaa, R-Cooperstown, a longtime auto dealer.

There's a consumer protection in that, too, he said, in administering vehicle sales when manufacturers, financial institutions and insurers can be contacted for obtaining or verifying information.

And some customers like to peruse lots on Sunday without the presence of salespeople, he added.

But auto dealers can be open Sunday.

"They can do service. They could demonstrate cars. They could show cars, but the actual sales transaction just is too difficult, so that's why that's exempted," Vigesaa said.

He and Barth, a director with the Automobile Dealers Association of North Dakota, say their fellow dealers prefer the Sunday prohibition. 

"It's pretty vastly supported to keep it how it is," Barth said.

Meanwhile, the 2015 Legislature expanded Sunday alcohol sales in North Dakota bars and restaurants to begin at 11 a.m. rather than noon. Minnesota in 2017 lifted its ban on Sunday liquor sales.

Roers Jones said she didn't talk with anyone about the Sunday alcohol restriction when considering a bill.

"At this point I'm not getting any request, any push from people within North Dakota to change either of those laws," she said.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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