The state Assembly approved a bill Thursday to allow wineries in Wisconsin to extend their hours until midnight.
Extending closing hours has been a longtime priority for wineries that must close by 9 p.m. under current state law. Wineries have said that limitation has curbed business and hampered their ability to host weddings and other functions. This is the third time the bill has been floated in the Legislature. It passed easily on a voice vote with no discussion.
The bill, AB 433, also includes provisions that clarify the state's alcohol law pertaining to so called "wedding barns." Under the bill, people who own or manage a private building that they rent out for events are prohibited from allowing others to consume alcohol on the premises of their building. The measure, a win for the Tavern League of Wisconsin, is aimed at clamping down on those who do not have a license to sell or distribute alcohol but are allowing renters to bring it on their premises for weddings and other events.
For alcohol retailers, it also lifts a four-liter cap on sales for distilled spirits if they are consumed off of the retailer's property.
The Wisconsin Wineries Association, backed by Americans for Prosperity, have promoted the measure this session and support the clarifications in other parts of the state's alcohol law.
"We are in favor of equal licensing requirements among those that are operating venues which manufacture and/or sell alcohol," said Ryan Prellwitz, president of the Wisconsin Winery Association.
Allowing wineries to stay open longer will spur business statewide, he said.
"This is something that only has a positive economic impact for the region of each winery," Prellwitz said. "These three hours make the difference between a winery booking a wedding and not booking a wedding, which can have a significant impact on revenue for that winery in addition to the equivalent dollars spent throughout each community."
"We’re thrilled to see this free market reform move forward in the Assembly. If enacted, this legislation will spark increased investment, job creation and tourism in Wisconsin," said Eric Bott, president of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
Bott said he also supports the "wedding barn" portion of the bill.
"We certainly don’t want to see overly onerous regulations placed on the owners of wedding barns; however, the language added to AB 433 appears to be more of a clarification of current law than new regulatory burden."
The Assembly-version of the bill must now be approved by the state Senate when it returns next month before it heads to Gov. Scott Walker's desk.