Blue law is antiquated, says state legislator
By BRYCE MARTIN | Regional Editor
North Dakota’s existing blue law has been criticized as being antiquated and unnecessary.
That prompted the state’s House of Representatives last month to bring the law, which prohibits certain businesses from opening prior to noon on Sundays, up for discussion. The house held a vote but failed to amass enough support to overturn the law.
That was, however, until Rep. Keith Kempenich of Bowman brought the law up a second time for re-evaluation.
Representatives mulled it over and passed a resolution to withdraw the law. That now heads to the state senate.
“It wasn’t really a plan,” Kempenich said last week. “I told some of the people over here that morning that I probably support bringing it back.”
Kempenich, a Republican, suggested most of the legislators were new and so not necessarily comfortable in bringing the issue up for discussion a second time. So he did it for them.
But Kempenich seemed staunchly opposed to the law. “You can’t legislate this stuff,” he explained.
“We’ve been messing around with these for 20 years. I just felt it was time that we moved on from this issue,” he said.
The law has been in effect since North Dakota was admitted as a state and has remained unchanged since 1991. In February 1991, the state legislation approved to lessen the restrictions of the Sunday opening law, allowing most businesses to operate on Sundays, but no earlier than noon.
Kempenich agreed that it’s an antiquated law for today’s society. He said the bill was partially rooted in religious values.
“You can’t force somebody to go to church. You can’t force families to be together,” he said. “It was just something that I felt — it’s got to come from within. And people can’t legislate stuff like that.”
There were stipulations attached to the resolution that would still give businesses the opportunity to remain closed until noon; it would not mandate that they be open.
If an employee requests that time off or has religious convictions, the business would still have to grant that.
Kempenich said that smaller employers would likely need some type of “buy-in” if they wanted to open earlier on Sundays. But each individual would approach the issue differently, according to Kempenich, as he said the younger generation is generally more supportive of repealing the law while the older generation is not.
“But it gives them the choice,” he said.