The state legislature could consider a bill that would require a liquor license for serving alcohol at many private events if the Tavern League and its allies in the legislature have their way. A draft bill aimed at shutting down competition from agriculture event venues (AEV), often referred to as “wedding barns,” is being considered by the Legislative Council Study Committee on Alcohol Beverages Enforcement.
A new memo released Tuesday afternoon from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) warns that, just like a previous attempt by the Tavern League would have ended tailgating in Wisconsin, this bill could have some unintended consequences.
“The same folks who would’ve banned drinking beer while tailgating at Lambeau Field earlier this year are back at it again, only now their proposal would regulate drinking beer at private events like weddings and even at vacation homes and on pontoon boats,” said Lucas Vebber, deputy counsel for WILL. “Once again, this is an attempt by special interests in Madison to curtail freedom for Wisconsinites and use the heavy hand of government to shut down competition. What major policy problem this legislation solves continues to be a mystery to us.”
Under the current law, private events are not required to have liquor licenses provided that alcohol is not sold on the premises. This has allowed an emerging industry of alternative venues for private events, including on privately-owned farms that have rental space for weddings, corporate gatherings and other private events.
The Tavern League has sought to “level the playing field” by trying to force AEVs to get liquor licenses with all of the regulations that come with even though the wedding barn operators have no intention of operating bars that are open to the public. The requirement would not only be costly, forcing many of the AEVs to shut down, but in many communities the number of liquor licenses are extremely limited in availability because of a state law that enforces a quota on each municipality – a law also supported by the Tavern League.
The new proposed law could prohibit the legal consumption of alcohol at many private events and would require a license or permit for when people consume alcohol on rental property.
The Legislative Council Study Committee on Alcohol Beverages Enforcement studying the draft bill targeting AEVs is dominated by the Tavern League and its allies, including the chairman Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander), a supper club owner and a former president of the Tavern League. No owner of an AEV was allowed to serve on the committee.
The study committee has discussed a number of issues regarding AEVs, including many issues that have nothing to do with state alcohol policy, in order to justify state regulation of the wedding barns to limit competition for the Tavern League.
However, the draft bill being considered by the committee may do more than attack the wedding barn industry. The bill is very similar to the proposed legislation that would have had the unintended consequences of banning tailgating at major sporting events such as Packer and Brewers games. According to Vebber, the bill now carves out exemptions for those types of events.
But the legislation still has issues beyond its purpose to try to kill a part of the Wisconsin economy. It could affect everything from drinking outside major concerts to even banning drinking alcohol at deer hunting campsites.
“This is the most interesting [exemption] I think: vacation rental properties or any other temporary lodging that is used for overnight accommodations if the property is furnished with sufficient beds for all adult guests to sleep,” Vebber said. “They’re saying, you don’t have to get a permit for a vacation rental property but only if that property has enough beds for the adult guests to sleep? So, basically you can have people over at your rental property, but only if you have enough beds for everyone to sleep in.”
Vebber explained how this could be a problem.
“So if I go up north, and your family and my family go up north, and we rent two cabins right next to each other, and they’re both one bedroom cabins and the kids are going to sleep on the couch,” Vebber said. “I cannot have you and your wife over to my cabin for a dinner party and serve you a Miller Lite. It’s a vacation rental property, I don’t have a permit, and I don’t have enough beds for all of the adult guests.”
Vebber said the result may not have been the intention of the draft bill, but it’s what happens when you try to craft a bill to serve a special interest like the Tavern League.
The legislation could even affect Wisconsin’s deer hunting traditions by requiring owners of land that rent out to hunters to get alcohol licenses if the hunters decide they want to drink beer at their camp unless there are “sufficient beds” for every adult at the campsite.
“Rented hunting land may even fall under this requirement if you plan to stay overnight,” the WILL memo states. “So if this proposal passes, be careful cracking a beer at deer camp after a long day in the field.”
The WILL memo also asks about the enforcement of the proposed law.
“There is also the question of how the state would intend to enforce such requirements: will revenue agents be knocking on doors to count beds during your next dinner party?” the memo asked.