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ST. PAUL, Minn.
When the University of Minnesota opened its new on-campus football stadium last year, the stadium was dry -- the result of an ultimatum by state lawmakers that alcohol be sold everywhere in the stadium or nowhere.
Now, legislators are taking another look and could give the university room to sell booze in premium seats while keeping it from stands filled by students and general ticket holders. A proposal rolling back the all-or-nothing law advanced Tuesday in a Senate committee, but its prospects were dimmer in the state House.
Sen. Sandy Pappas said her bill permitting limited sales would be a financial boost to the university, which had to offer discounts after backtracking on an offers of beer and wine in luxury seats and suites. Pappas, chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said the decision to go dry cost the university $1 million to $1.3 million.
The university isn't pushing for the law change, but boosters working under the name Friends of Gopher Sports are. The group has three registered lobbyists, including former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe.
"Every dollar helps," Moe said.
Budget bills moving through the Legislature would cut more than $30 million in university aid. The Pappas bill would require profits from liquor sales to go into a fund for athletic scholarships.
Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said school leaders should have the power to determine where booze is sold.
"This is a college facility and the regents want to have a want to have a collegiate atmosphere that is not inundated with alcohol," Pappas said.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, who chairs the Senate's Higher Education Committee, said he remain opposed to allowing alcohol sales in premium seating but not in general seating areas.
"The taxpayers paid for the majority of that stadium, not the suite holders," said Rukavina, DFL-Virginia. Rukavina said the university's stance to cordon off alcohol sales smacked of elitism.
It's not clear whether Rukavina can fend off a change, though; Pappas plans to tack her bill onto a broader college policy measure that will be voted on later in the session.
Another House member who railed against the two-tier alcohol policy last year said he's open to a compromise this session.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he didn't think the university would cut off all alcohol sales in response to the 2009 law. Beer was sold throughout the Metrodome, where the Gophers played the 28 previous seasons.
"It's foolish to ban all alcohol in all forms at all collegiate events. It just doesn't make sense," Garofalo said. "I am not completely surrendering on this but I am open minded."
Even if the bill becomes law, University President Robert Bruininks and the Board of Regents would have to lift the blanket ban for alcohol to be sold during the 2010 season.
School spokesman Dan Wolter said the board hasn't decided on a response to the bill.