A widely supported legislative proposal to extend winery hours appears to be doomed this session after a conservative group raised alarm that it would also block tailgates around Camp Randall and Lambeau Field.
The bill as originally proposed would have extended winery hours from 9 p.m. to midnight, subject to local regulations. An amendment was later added with support from the Tavern League of Wisconsin that would require private properties that rent space for parties to obtain a liquor license in order to allow alcohol consumption.
The amendment was adopted with no opposition and the bill passed on a voice vote in the Assembly.
But the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty raised an alarm bell last week, saying the bill could apply to private property owners who charge Badger fans (or Gopher or Cornhusker fans for that matter) for parking on their property, thus barring tailgating on their property without a liquor license, which can cost thousands of dollars and are often limited in number per municipality.
“What major policy problem the bill is designed to solve is a mystery to us,” WILL executive vice president CJ Szafir said in a statement. “But what is clear — whether intended or unintended — is that the amendment would negatively impact people’s ability to enjoy a beer at their tailgate before a Packers, Badgers or Brewers game.”
Bill author Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Friday he doesn’t expect the Senate to take up the bill based on those concerns. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he didn’t have a comment on the bill Friday afternoon.
On Saturday, Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, announced he was withdrawing his support for the bill because of the tailgating concerns.
He released a Legislative Council memo that said the amendment would mean home owners around stadiums who rent their homes for pregame drinking parties would likely have to obtain a liquor license. It’s less clear whether an impromptu tailgate on private property would require the same license, but it would depend on how the Department of Revenue enforced the law were it to pass, the memo said.
“While tailgaters are not the intended target of this legislation, events like Packers’ gameday are the unintended consequences of the amended bill,” Cowles said. “Tailgating is synonymous with not only Green Bay, but Wisconsin, and I believe it is simply unreasonable to ask a homeowner to apply for a liquor license to allow a few tailgaters to get ready for gameday in their yard.”
Tavern League lobbyist Scott Stenger criticized WILL’s objections to the bill as “ridiculous, childish and sad.”
“Their criticism is some fantasy idea that the Legislature in the waning days is going to prohibit tailgating at Packer and Brewer games,” Stenger said. “The bill doesn’t do any of that.”
He said the intent of the amendment was not to regulate tailgates and his organization would welcome an amendment that clarifies that. However, the Assembly is not planning to return this session and Nygren said the issue would have to be revisited next session.
Stenger said taverns and other liquor license venues around the state are losing business to private property owners who convert barns into wedding reception halls and allow guests to supply their own alcohol without the added expense of a liquor license. The amendment was intended to address that issue.
The amendment states: “No owner or person in charge of property that is not a public place and who receives payment for temporary use of the property by another person for a specific event may permit the consumption of alcohol beverages on the property, unless the person has an appropriate retail license or permit and the consumption of alcohol beverages occurs on that portion of the property covered by the retail license or permit.”
According to the Legislative Council, a likely practical effect of the amendment “appears to be that private events such as weddings, fundraisers and parties could not include alcohol beverage consumption if they are held on rented, unlicensed premises.”
WILL argues the amendment would apply to private property owners who charge for parking around stadiums because they aren’t covered under a stadium exemption that allows tailgating in the parking lots of stadiums. It also raises the possibility that it could apply to stadium parking lots, though WILL acknowledges that concern is less certain.