The Wisconsin Tavern League is recommending its members host more private events after the Evers administration said it won’t force wedding barns to obtain liquor licenses.
The League is characterizing the move, announced in a memo publicized Tuesday, as a way to boost business for Wisconsin bars, which it says are subject to stricter requirements than wedding barns are, including for liquor.
The question of whether wedding barns — barns converted to host weddings and other celebrations — should be subject to liquor licensing requirements has been hotly contested after former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel issued an informal opinion last fall arguing the barns and other private events held in “public spaces” need to be licensed for their patrons to consume alcohol. The opinion was not legally binding.
State law prohibits owners of public places from allowing alcohol without a license. But the statutes don’t define a “public place.”
The Tavern League, a powerful group representing Wisconsin’s alcoholic beverage license holders, was staunchly opposed to Schimel’s opinion because in its view, it doesn’t treat all businesses fairly under the law.
Schimel’s informal opinion prompted a lawsuit from wedding barn owners against the Evers administration seeking to prevent wedding barns from having to abide by liquor license requirements. They were represented by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
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An Evers spokeswoman last week said the administration does not want to require wedding barns to keep liquor licenses, as was the practice under former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration. WILL praised the decision, but stopped short of dropping the lawsuit.
Evers’ statement spurred the Tavern League to issue a memo urging members to take advantage of the lax rules for private events, allowing an unlicensed area “to be a one stop shop and offer private events that do not have to comply with the laws of a licensed business.”
“Simply amend your liquor license to exempt a room or hall from your license,” the memo reads. “Once that room is not licensed you can offer private events with no regulations. The provision would also apply to a vacant storefront in your community. If you choose to buy an unlicensed vacant business you could operate a private event where alcohol could be consumed.”
The note clarifies that private events cannot sell liquor directly to attendees.
The Tavern League claimed such unlicensed premises are also not subject to other regulations, such as private well testing, obeying the state’s smoking ban or conforming with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
An Evers spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.