Bill Would Give Ephraim Board Final Say Over Alcohol Licensing

A bill on Governor Scott Walker’s desk could negate the binding referendum questions concerning beer and wine licenses that Ephraim residents will vote on April 5. Gasps of relief, surprise and frustration rang in Ephraim’s village hall on March 23 when Claire Silverman, legal counsel for the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, explained the bill during an information session on the referendum.

“This repeals the referendum process,” said Silverman of Assembly Bill 624. “If it repeals the referendum process, then the results of the referendum will be advisory. So that throws it back to your governing body to decide.”

Under Wisconsin state law, there is a strict procedure for petitioners to follow in holding referendums for alcohol licenses. Hugh Mulliken, innkeeper at the Lodgings at Pioneer Lane, followed the petition process and got the questions placed on the  April 5 ballot. According to state law, that vote would be binding, requiring the Ephraim Village Board to follow the will of the simple majority of voters.

But Assembly Bill 624, introduced Jan. 4, 2016 by Assemblyman David Steffen (R – Green Bay), repeals the referendum process, giving the power to offer alcohol licenses to the village board, not the voters.

“This bill repeals the current law that allows the electors of a municipality to determine, by referendum, whether the municipality may issue retail licenses for the sale of malt beverages or intoxicating liquors or whether a liquor store operated by the municipality should cease operation,” said the analysis of the bill by the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Silverman said she heard Walker may sign the bill in Madison on March 30. The bill becomes effective after publication, which is usually the day after it is signed by the governor.

If the bill is signed, “your village board has the power to issue licenses as provided under state law. They don’t need authority from the people to do that,” said Silverman.

Even if Ephraim votes to allow beer and wine licenses on April 5 and Walker signs the bill after that, the referendum still goes from binding to advisory. As soon as the bill is signed, the board can choose to issue licenses or not, no matter the result of the referendum.

On March 24, the Ephraim Business Council (EBC) released the results of a recent survey of village business owners. Of 100 EBC members, 73 participated in the survey that asked for their stance on the referendum.

According to the EBC, of those business owners who responded, 75 percent said beer and wine sales should be allowed in Ephraim. An additional 11 percent said it should be allowed with restrictions. Just 14 percent said it should not be allowed at all.

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