Senate committee punches Gerlach’s ticket bill

Many entertainment venues oppose the concept

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee Chairman Chris Gerlach saw his event tickets legislation pass his committee on a strong 11 to 4 vote, Wednesday, Feb. 1.

“I believe this bill protects the middle ground,” said Gerlach, a Republican from Apple Valley.

The controversial bill, which an assortment of entertainment venues from the Minnesota Twins to the Burnsville Performing Arts Center oppose, in part focuses on so-called paperless or electronic ticket sales.

Gerlach’s bill outlaws the use of electronic forms of ticket sales not readily transferable. It prohibits conditioning entry into a venue on the presentation of a token — the original ticket purchasers’ credit card or ID card — not readily available to someone whose purchased a ticket from a friend, for instance.

Gerlach advanced the ticket bill last year, but ran into a roadblock in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gerlach proposes to amend the legislation, increasing the penalty on ticket scalpers using ‘bots or computer software to get around a ticket sellers’ computer security to mass purchase event tickets having a value of more than $5,000. Everyone agrees the ‘bots are the bad actors, Gerlach said.

Testifiers both applauded and opposed the legislation.

Joe Wright, a bartender from Maple Grove, spoke of wanting the freedom to purchase tickets at the spur of the moment. “Sometimes I get off work early, because it’s slow,” he said.

Having a free marketplace allows him to get tickets, often at prices lower than the ticket was originally sold, Wright said.

Another bill supporter, Geoff Jarpe, a metro resident, expressed concern that the spread in the use of paperless tickets and prohibitive practices will not only prevent him from swapping tickets among family members but donating them to charities.

“I never sold a ticket to a (Green Bay) Packer game — not because we are Packer fans,” he said.

But Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter indicated the Twins’ view ticket sales as a battle between the fans and professional ticket scalpers. “They have no skin in the game,” he said of supporters of Gerlach’s bill.

St. Peter noted the many Minnesota venues in opposition to the legislation.

Bill Huepenbecker, senior director of planning and public affairs for the St. Paul Arena Co., a subsidiary of the Minnesota Wild, echoed similar themes. “They’re not going to get ahead of those guys,” Huepenbecker said of fans beating ticket scalpers to the punch.

Huepenbecker said that it made no sense for venues to make ticket sales difficult for patrons, because the patrons may not come back. “There’s no one here saying they had a problem with (ticket) transferability,” he said. Indeed, in regard to concerts, most concerts are not sold out, he said.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said while the concerns of bill supporters were valid, she was impressed by the wide array of Minnesota venues standing in opposition to the bill.

Bonoff, and several other Democrats on the committee, voted against Gerlach’s bill.

But Republican committee members — Gazelka, Brown, Chamberlain, Dahms, Jungbauer, Kruse, Thompson and Vandeveer — voted for it.

Sen Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, also voted in favor.

Gerlach will now take his bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he’ll offer the felony provision on electronic ticket scalping.

“I don’t know,” he said when asked whether the bill will get signed into law.

Gerlach, who has not spoken to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton about the legislation, said he would if the bill seemed poised to pass the Legislature.

“This is not an easy issue. This is a complicated issue,” Gerlach said.

But don’t impair the free market place on account of some bad actors, he said.