As the state Senate convenes for what is expected to be the final day of the session on March 20, it may consider a bill that would require event and wedding venues such as barns and galleries to obtain alcohol licenses. For events that want to serve liquor, they will be after the same hard-to-find licenses in Door County valued by some municipalities at $100,000.
The provision of the bill requiring venues to obtain liquor licenses was added as an amendment to a bill that extends operating hours of wineries from 9 pm until midnight. The amended bill passed the Assembly and is ready for a vote in the Senate.
Rep. Joel Kitchens said the amendment may have killed the bill’s chances at getting through the Senate.
“To be honest they kind of snuck that thing in,” Kitchens said. “There was a lot of people not even realizing what would happen there. My understanding is the Senate will not take it up now.”
While Kitchens supported the original bill to extend winery hours, he said he did not support the amendment to require liquor licenses for event spaces.
Scott Stenger, lobbyist for the Tavern League of Wisconsin, said the bill will level the playing field for all businesses that want to sell liquor.
“That is the whole purpose behind licensure,” Stenger said. “When there is alcohol being dispensed they require you to be licensed.”
“Private events such as weddings, fundraisers, and parties could not include alcohol beverage consumption if they are held on rented, unlicensed premises,” the Wisconsin Legislative Council said in a memo.
But wedding and event planner Carrie Baldwin Smith said the change would likely hurt the local wedding industry.
“If this really passes the way it’s sounding, this is going to be traumatic to any place up here,” Baldwin Smith said.
She said her clients purchase all of the beer, wine and liquor themselves for the events she manages. While the Tavern League believes the new law will promote fairness, Baldwin Smith said the current system is not much different from going to the grocery store and buying alcohol for a party.
“They’re buying it from the grocery store, they’re not taking it away from a local bar,” Baldwin Smith said.
The minimum cost for a liquor license is $10,000, but in Door County there are very few liquor licenses remaining. Unlike beer and wine licenses, the number of liquor licenses available in a municipality is capped.
With a few caveats for additional licenses, the quota is tied to population. Due to Door County’s low permanent population relative to the influx of tourists, many municipalities have given out all of their liquor licenses and have none remaining for these event venues to purchase.
In 2016, after realizing the Town of Egg Harbor did not have a liquor license to sell, the owner of Door Artisan Cheese Co. asked the Town of Sevastopol for one of their licenses. Sevastopol was willing to give it up for a price of $100,000.
Event venues in the county who want to serve liquor may be out of luck should the bill pass. Liberty Grove, Baileys Harbor and the Town of Egg Harbor, all of which harbor popular barn wedding and event venues, do not have any liquor licenses remaining. The same goes for the Village of Sister Bay, which is expecting construction of a 40-acre wedding barn and campus in the village to begin later this year.
The current version of the bill before the Senate is limited to the extension of winery hours, but the Senate can consider adding the Assembly’s amendment to the bill.
However, anyone in Door County or throughout the 1st Senate district will have a hard time being heard on the issue. The Senate seat representing Door County is vacant after Frank Lasee left the position in December. Governor Walker has not called a special election for the seat, citing unnecessary cost at the end of the legislature’s session, opting to fill it with the election in November.