Lawmakers have moved to scrap a proposal to license wedding barns that was originally part of a push to set a 4 a.m. bar closing time during this summer's Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.
The Assembly State Affairs Committee unanimously voted Thursday to remove the language amid calls for a "clean bill" and pushback over its inclusion from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and others, which labeled it as a "new and unneeded regulation" in written comments this week.
Rep. Rob Swearingen, who chairs the committee and authored the bill and amendment, told the panel while the wedding barns language was being removed, the issue would still need to be addressed and he urged those interests to make the first move next session.
"I realize that the private event venue issue was difficult in this bill but I also realize we had to have that discussion because we are still talking about the safety of the public," the Rhinelander Republican and supper club owner said.
Extending bar closing hours in across all of Wisconsin during the DNC, from July 13-17, has been sought since last spring, after Milwaukee was selected as the host of this year’s convention. But a proposal to do so had contained a host of other measures, including a plan to regulate wedding barns.
The Cap Times first obtained the draft language a few weeks ago. Since then, the legislation was quickly introduced and made its way through the committee process as the legislative session draws to a close.
Thursday's amendment leaves a few other parts of the legislation intact: measures to ensure that vendors within State Fair Park are properly licensed to serve alcohol through the State Fair Park Board, let the Department of Revenue grant retail alcohol permits to Elkhart Lake’s Road America vendors and limit breweries' hours of operation.
But in addition to removing the wedding barns provisions, the amendment also cut out an effort to extend winery closing hours from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Under the originally introduced bill, wedding barn venues and other private spaces would have been subject to a $750 annual permit fee, less than the $2,000 biennial fee under the draft legislation reviewed by the Cap Times at the end of January.
It wasn't immediately clear to what extent the private event venue language could have affected tailgating and other activities, a concern raised last session after a bill to extend winery hours was amended to prohibit private property owners from allowing alcohol to be consumed on their premises without a retail license.
WILL in its written testimony noted this session's language "tries to limit the proposal's anticompetitive impact but it comes up short." It alleged that because "private event" was undefined, the language could have affected, for example, a Super Bowl, birthday or retirement party.
The amendment also nixed a part of the bill that would have allowed wineries to stay open until midnight, rather than their current closing time of 9 p.m., aligning them with other "Class B" license-holders. The legislation as introduced would have also allowed certain wineries to be eligible for extended closing hours during the DNC.
While the original bill draft had sought to extend bar hours in more than a dozen southern and southeastern Wisconsin counties, the current version of the legislation would allow all parts of the state to be eligible for the lengthened hours, though municipalities could choose not to participate.
Milwaukee Rep. Christine Sinicki, a Democrat, said she had "reservations" about allowing establishments throughout Wisconsin to stay open extra hours, noting that outstate the extended time could be conducive to drunken driving.
Still, she supported the amendment and the bill, calling it "a compromise."
It's unclear what sort of future the legislation will see as it continues making its way through both houses. The Assembly is looking to meet twice on the floor next week before ending its work for the session, while the Senate is poised to meet next week Wednesday and likely once in March.
Republican leaders in both houses — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos — told reporters last week they were hopeful the effort could move forward.