Graham Kilmer

Cocktails To Go Bill Passes Assembly

State Senate has yet to vote on the legislation. City has concerns.

By - Mar 17th, 2021 06:14 pm
Cocktails. Photo by Michael Shehan Obeysekera, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Cocktails. Photo by Michael Shehan Obeysekera, (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

A bill that would allow bars and restaurants to sell liquor and mixed drinks to go passed the State Assembly Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Steffen (R-Green Bay), allows businesses holding a Class-B liquor license to sell liquor and wine for consumption away from the premises so long as it is covered with a tamper proof seal.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown sent many bars and restaurants scrambling for ways to generate revenue. Even after the shutdown ended some in Milwaukee remain closed, while many others are operating at limited capacity.

This was the impetus for Steffen’s proposal, which has a twin Senate bill sponsored by Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma).

The legislation was introduced with the backing of industry associations like the Tavern League of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. In January, the tavern league said the legislation was a “good first step” and potentially a “lifeline until our state can return to some normalcy.” The restaurant association said “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers were demanding the ability to have alcohol delivered. Now with consumers staying home and avoiding dining in restaurants or going to the grocery store, customers are demanding the safe delivery of alcohol with their restaurant and grocery deliveries.”

And while the bill enjoyed bipartisan support in the Assembly, not everyone was sure the bill was a good idea. Concerns were raised that the legislation could encourage drinking and driving and underage drinking. Also a concern: that the bill, as drafted, would eliminate some local control over liquor licensing and it’s unlikely lawmakers would sunset the new allowances once the pandemic ended.

The Milwaukee Common Council’s Judiciary & Legislation Committee held a robust discussion on the bill, and several others that would also expand what was allowed under existing liquor licenses, in January.

The main concern of the committee was the usurpation of local control over liquor licensing. Jim Bohl, a city lobbyist and former alderman, wrote to the state Senate, “The impact on decisions being weighed, including the possible increase of illegal consumption of alcoholic beverages while driving; the expanded hours upon which purchases for off premise purchases can be made; and the ability to legally enforce purchases, should not be done lightly.”

Ald. Robert Bauman noted that if the legislation passes the city will only have one way to enforce it, and that’s approval and revocation of licenses. “It puts us in the position of, if an establishment is… in violation of these rules, I’m not sure what the sanction is other than revoking their entire license which arguably is draconian in its reach.”

Bauman and his colleagues favored the bills being drafted as enabling legislation, not a mandate. That way the city could enact its own ordinance, drafting local mechanisms for enforcement and tailoring it to the specific desires and challenges of the community.

The city ultimately staked out a neutral position on the bill, saying if it was drafted as enabling legislation it would support it.

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