A comprehensive bill aimed at both regulating wedding barns and revamping Wisconsin’s liquor laws has garnered support from both sides of the aisle, Your Content has learned.
The proposed legislation, which has been swiftly advancing through the Republican-controlled Legislature, secured a favorable 12-2 vote from an Assembly committee on Thursday.
This significant development comes merely two days after a public hearing where wedding barn owners voiced concerns that the proposed changes could jeopardize their businesses.
However, the bill, a result of extensive collaboration between Republican legislative leaders and various stakeholders, addresses all aspects of the state’s alcohol industry, encompassing licensing, production, sales, and distribution of beer, wine, and liquor.
The bill particularly seeks to address the legal ambiguities surrounding rural venues that host weddings and similar events involving alcohol consumption.
Over the years, these venues, commonly known as wedding barns, have witnessed a surge in popularity.
Presently, they operate without requiring a liquor license. Under the proposed legislation, wedding barns hosting more than six events per year would be required to obtain a Class B liquor license, permitting them to serve beer and wine.
Despite concerns raised by some wedding barn owners about the perceived burdensome requirements, lawmakers on the Assembly’s state affairs committee dismissed the notion that the bill would harm their businesses.
Republican Representative Michael Schraa emphasized that the bill merely necessitated a slight adjustment in their business model.
Committee chair Republican Representative Rob Swearingen stressed the need to regulate wedding barns to ensure public safety, referring to alcohol as a significant factor in the equation.
Democratic Representative Tod Ohnstad, one of the three Democrats joining the nine Republicans in approving the bill, stated that the proposed legislation aimed to level the playing field between wedding barns, which currently operate without licenses, and other venues such as banquet halls and taverns that must obtain liquor licenses to operate.
The bill is expected to pass in the Legislature and be sent to Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who had been involved in its drafting.
As of now, Governor Evers’ spokesperson has not responded to requests for comment on the measure.
Wedding barns constitute only a fraction of the comprehensive proposal, which seeks to reform Wisconsin’s long-standing three-tier system established in the 1930s.
This system regulates the relationships between alcohol suppliers, distributors, and retailers.
Although discussions on reforming the three-tier system have taken place over the years, a consensus has proved elusive until now.
The current bill enjoys broad support from major alcohol sellers and renowned craft breweries within the state.
Distributors, retailers, and various industry associations are also in favor of the proposed changes.
The bill includes notable provisions such as the creation of a dedicated division within the state Department of Revenue to oversee and enforce liquor laws, expanded operating hours for wineries, stand-alone retail stores for brew pubs, and the introduction of a statewide bartender license.
Prominent supporters of the bill include Anheuser-Busch Companies, Kwik Trip, Molson Coors Brewing Co.
New Glarus Brewing Company, the Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute, according U.S. News.