Wisconsin lawmakers set to approve liquor law overhaul

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin lawmakers are poised to approve a massive overhaul of laws governing the state’s multi-billion-dollar liquor industry, a proposal backed by the smallest craft brewers to the most major national brewers, bar owners and liquor distributors.

The sweeping update to laws affecting the production, distribution and sale of alcohol enjoys bipartisan support and has taken years to prepare. The state Assembly is expected to pass it on Wednesday, which would then send it to the Senate for final approval. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who participated in discussions of the measure, is expected to sign it.

The bill would create a new division within the state Department of Revenue that would be responsible for overseeing and enforcing state liquor laws. The lack of such unity has now led to inconsistent enforcement of the law – and questions about how it affects new businesses that weren’t contemplated when the laws were enacted, supporters of the law said. law Project.

Those who have worked on the measure with Republican legislative leaders say the time is right to update the laws in a state that saw the birth of beer giant Miller in Milwaukee and has seen an explosion of brewers in recent years. craft beers, like New Glarus Brewing Co. which makes Spotted Cow and other beers available for sale only in Wisconsin.

The bill affects all levels of the state liquor industry governing the licensing, production, sale and distribution of beer, wine and liquor. The so-called three-tier system, created in the 1930s, has been waiting for changes for years, but policymakers and the alcohol industry have been unable to reach an agreement.

The three-tier system was designed to prevent monopolies, so the same company could not produce and sell alcohol at the wholesale and retail levels. But for years the system has been criticized for not keeping up with changes in the industry, including the explosion of small craft breweries and the growing popularity of wedding barns.

The bill would require venues that provide alcohol at special events, commonly known as wedding barns, to be regulated in a new way. They could either get a license that would allow them to hold events six times a year or no more than once a month, or get a liquor license that would allow them to sell liquor at as many events as they wish.

Wedding barn owners raised the strongest objections to the measure, saying the new requirements would be too costly and onerous, and would put them out of business. Many wedding barns currently do not have liquor licenses. They instead contract with others who bring alcohol into the barns for events.

Last week, lawmakers on the Assembly State Affairs Committee dismissed concerns expressed by some wedding barn owners that the requirements were too onerous, saying they will simply have to adjust their business practices. Proponents of the changes say they level the playing field between wedding barns, which don’t need permits, and banquet halls, taverns and the like that need liquor licenses to operate.

The bill would also allow extended hours at wineries and regulate them in the same way as craft breweries and distilleries. This would allow breweries to operate stand-alone retail stores and craft breweries to sell products from other out-of-state breweries. The bill would also create new guidelines for contract brewing, winemaking and distillation, which is a growing segment of the industry.

The measure also creates a new statewide bartending license. Currently, bartenders are licensed by the local municipality, a system that proponents of the change say is cumbersome. It also allows bars in 14 southeast Wisconsin counties to stay open two to four hours longer than the current 2 a.m. limit — during next summer’s Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.

The measure has broad support. Its funders include Anheuser-Busch Companies, Tavern League of Wisconsin, Kwik Trip, Molson Coors Brewing Co., New Glarus Brewing Company, Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition, Wisconsin Grocers Association, and Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute.

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