Graham Kilmer

Legislature Passes Cocktails-To-Go Bill

It awaits the governor's signature. The Senate also passed a bill allowing home deliveries of alcohol.

By - Mar 24th, 2021 02:27 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 allows bars and restaurants to sell liquor and mixed drinks in to-go containers has now passed both chambers of the state Legislature.

In a 28-to-2 vote the bill passed the state Senate Tuesday after winning a voice vote in the Assembly the previous week. The only dissenting votes were Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason) and Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin)

The bill, if it’s signed by the governor, will allow 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 bill is sponsored by Rep. David Steffen (R-Green Bay) and quickly earned support from industry associations like the Tavern League of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

Both groups have said the bill would offer bars and restaurants another source of revenue. Many small businesses have been devastated by the early shutdown and subsequent limits on capacity put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. If signed into law, patrons ordering food from a restaurant will be able to also order a cocktail to enjoy with their meal.

However, not everyone is happy with the potential changes to state law found in the legislation. For some municipalities like the City of Milwaukee, the major complaints are that it is not enabling legislation but rather a mandate and that it may encourage or contribute to increased drunk driving

If the bill is signed by the governor, it will become the law in every municipality across the state, eliminating the ability of local governments to craft their own ordinances and rules regarding to-go liquor sales.

In Milwaukee, when the Common Council’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee discussed the bill, Alderman Robert Bauman said the city would have limited recourse to enforce the new law other than revoking their license, “which arguably is draconian in its reach.”

The city staked out a neutral position on the bill, lobbying legislators to change the bill to enabling legislation, so the city can decide if it wants to adopt its own ordinance and tailor it to the desires of the local community.

The cocktails-to-go bill wasn’t the only legislation regarding liquor sales passed by the Senate Tuesday. It also passed a bill that has not been taken up for a vote in the Assembly, which goes even further in its relaxation of laws covering the sale of liquor.

The bill would allow bars, restaurants and grocery stores to accept alcohol orders over the phone or online and then deliver those orders to the customer. Third-party delivery services would also be allowed to fulfill these orders.

One of the biggest concerns for the City of Milwaukee with this bill was that it did not specify during what hours deliveries could be made. Without this, bars and restaurants could conceivable make alcohol deliveries as late as their liquor license allows in-person service.

An amendment sponsored by Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) and adopted by the Senate does address this, by limiting the hours of sale and delivery to whatever each municipality has established by ordinance.

If both bills are eventually signed by the governor, it’s possible these measures meant to help businesses during a pandemic will become permanent fixtures of state law. Jim Bohl, a lobbyist for the city and former alderman, said “They’re all citing the concern with the economy and COVID. On the flip side, I guarantee you that no legislator is going to seek to sunset that the minute we are out of the emergency.”

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