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 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.
Churches have adapted over the years to the changing lifestyles of parishioners by offering alternative services, often on Saturday.
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." 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.