MADISON — Lawmakers have moved to simplify a bill that would set a 4 a.m. bar closing time statewide during Milwaukee’s Democratic National Convention.
The convention is July 13-16 and the extended bar close would go through July 17.
While the original bill draft had sought to extend bar hours in more than a dozen southern and southeastern Wisconsin counties, including Racine and Kenosha counties, the current version of the legislation would allow all parts of the state to be eligible for the lengthened hours, though municipalities could choose not to participate.
A contentious part of the original bill, which included a proposal that would require wedding barns to carry alcohol licenses even if wedding parties provided their own booze, was stripped, allowing the bill to move forward.
The Assembly State Affairs Committee unanimously voted Thursday to remove the language amid calls for a “clean bill.” The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and others labeled the language that ended up being struck as a “new and unneeded regulation” in written comments this week.
Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, who chairs the committee and authored the bill and amendment, told the panel that, while the wedding barns language was being removed, the issue would still need to be addressed and he urged those interests to make the first move next session.
“I realize that the private event venue issue was difficult in this bill but I also realize we had to have that discussion because we are still talking about the safety of the public,” Swearingen, a supper club owner, said.
A lengthy bar time battle
Extending bar closing hours in across all of Wisconsin during the DNC has been sought since last spring, after Milwaukee was selected as the host of this year’s convention. But a proposal to do so had contained a host of other measures, including a plan to regulate wedding barns.
Thursday’s amendment leaves a few other parts of the legislation intact: measures to ensure that vendors within State Fair Park are properly licensed to serve alcohol through the State Fair Park Board, letting the Department of Revenue grant retail alcohol permits to Elkhart Lake’s Road America vendors, and limiting breweries’ hours of operation.
But in addition to removing the wedding barns provisions, the amendment also cut out an effort to extend winery closing hours from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Under the originally introduced bill, wedding barn venues and other private spaces would reportedly have been subject to a $750 annual permit fee, less than the $2,000 biennial fee under the draft legislation.
Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said she had “reservations” about allowing establishments throughout Wisconsin to stay open extra hours, noting that the extended time could be conducive to drunken driving.
Still, she supported the amendment and the bill, calling it “a compromise.”
It’s unclear what sort of future the legislation will see as it continues making its way through both houses. The Assembly is looking to meet twice on the floor next week before ending its work for the session, while the Senate is poised to meet next week Wednesday and likely at least once in March.
Republican leaders in both houses — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos — told reporters last week they were hopeful the effort could move forward.