The state is asking a circuit court judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed in Dunn County alleging that it is unfairly regulating wedding barns. 

Attorney General Josh Kaul said Thursday in a response to the lawsuit, which was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, that it should be dismissed "because there is no case or controversy between the parties."

WILL, a conservative legal group based in Milwaukee, sued Gov. Tony Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul and Peter Barca, the secretary-designee of the Department of Revenue in January. They are arguing that the venues, which have become increasingly popular around the state, should not be required to hold liquor licenses.

Alcohol is often distributed at events that are held in wedding barns, though because the barn operators themselves are often not directly serving alcohol to guests, many do not want to apply for a state liquor license because there are caps on how many are issued and come with other business limitations.  

The lawsuit, filed in Dunn County Circuit Court, is the latest development in a longstanding dispute between conservative advocacy groups, Republican legislators and alcohol businesses over how the state's alcohol laws should be interpreted and applied. Most lawmakers and business owners agree that the state's alcohol laws are unclear but disagree on what to do about it.

How the state understands and regulates public spaces when it comes to alcohol consumption is at the center of the debate. The state Department of Revenue, which administers and enforces Wisconsin's alcohol laws, has largely left the wedding barn industry alone and has not forced operators to get state licenses or face shut down.

Others in the alcohol industry — the Tavern League and beer and spirits wholesalers — have called for more proactive enforcement of the state's alcohol laws across the board.

In its suit, WILL asserted that "for years, DOR has interpreted 'public place' to exclude events where attendees consist only of personally invited guests known to the host, which are not open to the general public."

Kaul on Thursday denied that statement, writing that it does not "accurately or completely state DOR’s interpretation of 'public place.'"

Rick Esenberg, president of WILL, said it will continue the case.  

"It would have been easy for the Department of Justice and the Evers administration to admit that the law is exactly how it has consistently been interpreted and enforced so that wedding barns and couples across the state could proceed with their business and plan for their special days," he said in a statement. "But they decided to punt, leaving business owners and brides alike in a state of uncertainty.”

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