Although fun-loving undergrads will still have to curtail their dancing by midnight on Saturday, other provisions to liberalize Massachusetts' restrictive Blue Laws were approved without dissent yesterday by the House Committee on Mercantile Affairs.
The Committee rejected a proposal to allow dancing until 1 a.m. on Sunday because it might encourage consumption of liquor past the midnight deadline.
However, the bill approved by the Committee removes a number of restrictions on the conduct of business on Sunday. It would permit any store with fewer than three employees to open on Sunday, allow real estate agents to show residential property, for sale or rental, and legalize the operation of gift shops.
In return, the bill would impose much stricter penalties for violation of the Blue Laws. Under its provisions the state Attorney General and local district attorneys could seek injunctions to halt illegal Sunday activities. Failure to comply with an injunction would mean stiff fines or jail sentences.
The present bill is the work of a three-man subcommittee headed by Rep. George H. O'Farrell (D-Malden), chairman of the Mercantile Affairs Committee.
The Blue Laws, first passed in 1692, aroused violent controversy last year when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their legality in a case involving a Kosher supermarket. (The proposed bill would permit the sale and delivery of Kosher meats on Sunday.)
In an effort to restore order to the confused legal situation, Gov. Volpe appointed a committee to recommend possible changes in the laws. However, the committee split sharply, with the majority advocating minor changes, and the minority calling for more liberal legislation.
Arthur E. Sutherland, Bussey Professor of Law and chairman of last year's committee called the present bill "a much improved statute." Sutherland was one of the sponsors of the minority report.
Although the present bill represents a major breakthrough for business interests, it has been criticized by the Massachusetts Council of Rabbis and other Jewish groups. Rabbi Samuel Fox, vice president of the Council, attacked the bill for its restrictive phrasing. He called for a law which would permit any person who closes down on his own Sabbath to do business on Sunday.
Another bill introduced in the Senate by President John E. Powers would establish Christmas, New Year's Day and others as legal holidays with Sunday legislation applying.