Walker Signs Alcohol Referendum Bill After Ephraim Vote

On April 25, Governor Scott Walker approved the bill that he had stalled in the turbulence of Ephraim’s beer and wine referendum. Wisconsin Act 372, published on April 26, repeals the referendum process for alcohol licensing, the process that Hugh Mulliken used to bring the vote of beer and wine to the Ephraim ballot on April 5.

Walker originally intended to sign the bill on March 30, potentially throwing the Ephraim vote into ambiguity. But Representative Joel Kitchens approached Walker to stall the bill until after the vote, giving Ephraim a binding referendum that the village would be forced to abide by.

“That bill was never really intended to affect Ephraim,” said Kitchens in a March interview. “Ephraim came up in the discussion and they did not want to affect their referendum.”

On April 5, village residents voted to approve Class B beer licenses and Class C wine licenses and the village will get started on the licensing process after an informational meeting with the Department of Revenue at the Ephraim Village Hall on May 2 at 6 pm.

A referendum lasts for two years, after which another referendum can be circulated and voted on. But Wisconsin Act 372 repeals the referendum process for alcohol licenses, essentially giving the power to hand out licenses straight to the village board.

However, since Ephraim’s referendum was binding at the time it was voted on, the decision stands for the life of the two-year referendum.

“After two years, the board is free to revert,” said Ephraim Village Attorney Jim Kalny before the vote. “In my opinion, it’s binding for two years if it passes.”

At the end of those two years, with no referendum process for alcohol licenses, the power goes to the village board.

Mulliken expects the village will have issued licenses by the time of the 2016 summer season.

The bill that unintentionally affected Ephraim was simply a way of cleaning up an unused statute, according to Scott Stenger, legal counsel for the Tavern League of Wisconsin. Included in Wisconsin Act 372 is the elimination of “residence district remonstrance” provisions, or the ability for neighborhoods of between 100 and 750 people to hold a referendum and become dry even within the limits of their wet municipality.

“Instead of having municipalities dealing with referendums, we think the power should lie with the municipal board or mayor or president,” said Stenger. “It doesn’t take away the option for the municipality to be dry if they choose to be, it just takes away that very seldom used process of a referendum.”

So the last alcohol referendum held in Wisconsin changed the course of a 163-year old history in the Village of Ephraim.

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