The following editorial was published March 18 in the Journal Times of Racine.
The law of unintended consequences was in full bloom in Madison this month.
GOP lawmakers, after approving an Assembly bill to allow state wineries to stay open until midnight to accommodate wedding receptions, quickly stampeded to the exits when a conservative law group pointed out an amendment to the bill that had passed on a voice vote would also ban serving up alcohol at tailgating parties around Wisconsin stadiums unless the homeowner renting out parking spaces got a liquor license.
Yeah, that’s on the “does not fly” list.
State Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay (yes, the home of the Packers), led the charge to the door, saying that while he had supported the original legislation to extend winery hours, the amendment made it hard to swallow.
“While tailgaters are not the intended target of this legislation, events like Packers game day are the unintended consequences of the amended bill. 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 game day in their yard,” Cowles said in a statement a week ago.
“Among insiders, the end of a Legislative session is often referred to as ‘silly season,’ largely as a result of last-minute efforts to get bills completed before the session is adjourned, “Cowles added, “It’s with despair that I say silly season has struck again, and this time it’s taking aim at tailgating.”
So how did this silly piece of legislation come to be? The original law change was simple enough: It extended the hours a winery could stay open from 9 p.m. to midnight. A nice clean bill change. The intent was to allow wineries — which have grown in number in Wisconsin from 13 in 2000 to more than 131 last year — to stay open later for wedding receptions.
But, as with all things Wisconsin when it comes to regulating alcohol licensing, an amendment was added, with the support of the Wisconsin Tavern League, to require private properties that rent space for parties to obtain a liquor license. That was a protectionist bit of language that was aimed at ending competition to taverns from wedding receptions held in barns that had no liquor license, according to news reports.
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The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty then pointed out that the language would also apply to homeowners who rent homes or parking spaces for tailgating at Badgers, Packers and Brewers games — and also could ban alcohol consumption in the parking lots at Lambeau Field and Miller Park.
That’s a lot of slip between the cup and the lip.
The problem was compounded by the fact that the Assembly had wrapped up work for this session — and wasn’t coming back for any do-overs — leaving the Senate with a flawed bill that it probably won’t take up now before it adjourns.
So wineries will be stuck for at least several more months with a 9 o’clock closing time — until the Legislature can return and get this right.
When it does take up legislation again, lawmakers should read the fine print of any amendments and consider that liquor licenses can cost several thousand dollars. Also, municipalities have limits on the number of licenses they can award (Racine, for instance, has no Class B licenses available) regardless of whether there are other wedding venues and not just a few barns that might be skewered to protect the business at Joe’s Corner Tap.
Would a law change require a bed-and-breakfast to spend $10,000 on a liquor license before it could host a wedding reception — where in the past, the bride and groom supplied their own refreshments and hired a licensed bartender? What about nature centers, churches or other venues that have put up tents and hosted the happy couple?
Or perhaps, just perhaps, the Legislature could take a lesson from this sloppy bit of lawmaking and resist the urge in the future to tack on last-minute amendments that carry water — or in this case, beer — for special interests and avoid the fracas of unintended consequences.
Nice, clean bills are, well, nice and clean and get the job done. And there’s less sloppy spillage.