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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Mike Bates
Bio: Mike Bates
Date:  August 31, 2007
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Topic category:  Other/General

Another Law We Don't Need

Letís say you own a retail establishment in Illinois. Some of your employees want you to close on Sundays so they can enjoy the day off. Itís not a bad idea, especially when you consider the overhead youíd save.

Letís say you own a retail establishment in Illinois. Some of your employees want you to close on Sundays so they can enjoy the day off. Itís not a bad idea, especially when you consider the overhead youíd save.

There is one problem. Unless your competition also is closed when you are, youíll lose business. So you approach your competitors and encourage them to do what youíre thinking of doing: Stay closed on Sundays.

Some say itís a fine idea. Others tell you to get lost; theyíll be more than happy to take whatever sales you lose by taking the day off.

So you can either close on Sundays, losing potential profits, or you can stay open, disappointing your employees and paying more overhead. Youíre stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, right?

Not necessarily. In the Land of Lincoln you have an alternative. If you canít persuade people to embrace what you believe is a good idea, go to Springfield and have a law passed making them do what you think they should do.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Illinois is one of the few states in which auto dealers are closed on Sundays. Some dealers might actually wish to be open on a day when plenty of people have the time to shop. Some, perhaps many, customers would like to have the option of buying a car on Sundays. For folks working traditional Monday through Friday jobs, it would be a genuine convenience. All that makes no difference.

The Illinois legislature, always receptive to pressure from deep-pocketed campaign contributors, passed bills mandating Sunday closings for car dealers in 1951 and 1956. Gov. Adlai Stevenson had the good sense to veto the first one and Gov. William Stratton followed suit on the second.

The 1961 version was signed by Gov. Otto Kerner (later sent to prison for taking bribes), but was tossed out by the State Supreme Court in 1962. The court determined the law violated the Illinois constitution by singling out only one activity for restriction. Restaurants, drugstores, and other retail establishments werenít included, just car dealers.

Jim Moran, the Courtesy (Ford) Man, did his own live TV commercials and was very familiar to Chicagoland viewers back in those days. Mr. Moran hailed the courtís ruling as ďa real milestone for free enterprise in America.Ē

It was a temporary victory for consumers and car dealers who wished to run their businesses as they saw fit. After the Supreme Court decision, a voluntary effort to keep auto dealerships dark on Sundays was tried. It didnít work. Yet another voluntary attempt was made in the Chicago area in 1967, again with less than the desired results.

Showing once again that bad ideas just donít go away, another effort to pass the law was mounted. Some car dealers lobbied hard and in 1982 legislation prohibiting Sunday hours passed. Gov. James Thompson signed the bill and it became effective in 1983.

There was another court challenge. This time it failed. The new law was nearly identical to the earlier one that was overturned, but now the Illinois Supreme Court decided subsequent acts by the General Assembly had ďdemonstrated a legislative purpose to regulate certain aspects of the sale of automobiles in a manner different from other retailers.Ē

Obviously, this wasnít a real milestone for free enterprise in America. So a few years later a stouthearted state representative Ė a Democrat no less Ė had the audacity to suggest letting consumers buy cars on a Sunday.

According to a 1987 column by Chicago Tribune auto reporter Jim Mateja, reaction to Rep. Grace Mary Sternís proposal was fierce. She received numerous phone calls and, ďOf the calls I got, easily 95 percent were from car salesmen, angry car salesmen.Ē 1,500 letters in opposition were mailed to the committee examining Rep. Sternís bill.

A spokesman for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, representing over 750 dealers, noted ďthe majority of the dealers were opposed to opening on Sunday, and the salespeople were very happy with Sunday off.Ē The committee of jurisdiction voted down her measure.

Laws like the one requiring Sunday closings for auto dealerships are designed for special interests, not the public interest. When was the last time a friend told you how great it is to live in a state where you canít buy a car on Sundays?

The concept of property rights steadily erodes. Auto dealers should have the right to be open on the days they want.

Sometimes freedom is lost not in sweeping revolutions, but a little bit at a time. Telling a particular business what days it can not operate clearly isnít a legitimate function of government.

Maybe someday the people of Illinois will have enough of the micromanagement. Theyíll demand auto dealers, like almost every other enterprise, make their own decisions on hours of operation. Theyíll demand the public interest be placed ahead of the special interests.

Until then, in Illinois, itís never on a Sunday.

Mike Bates

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Notes:  This Michael Bates column appeared in the August 30, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.

Biography - Mike Bates

Mike Bates wrote a weekly column of opinion - or nonsense, depending on your viewpoint - for over 20 years. Additionally, his articles have appeared in the Congressional Record, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Mensa Journal. He has been a guest on Milt Rosenberg's program on WGN Radio Chicago, the Bruce Elliott show on Baltimore's WBAL, the Jim Sumpter show on the USA Radio Network and the New Media Journal's Blog Radio. As a lad, Mike distributed Goldwater campaign literature and since then has steadily moved further to the Right. He is the author of "Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths." In 2007, he won an Illinois Press Association award for Original Column


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