MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers'
administration won't force wedding barns to obtain liquor licenses,
his spokeswoman said Friday in a move that could defuse a lawsuit
seeking to force state regulators to leave barn operators alone.
Former Attorney General Brad Schimel threw wedding barns' future
into question in November when he issued an informal opinion saying
private events held in public spaces require liquor licenses. State
law prohibits owners of public places from allowing alcohol without
a license. But the statutes don't define a public place.
Two Wisconsin farmers who rent out their barns for weddings filed a
lawsuit in Dunn County in January seeking to ensure wedding barns
don't need to obtain liquor licenses, which can cost $10,000.
They're seeking a ruling that events on private property don't
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in emails Friday that the
state Department of Revenue hasn't required wedding barns to get
liquor licenses in the past and Evers doesn't want to change that
stance. She didn't immediately respond to a follow-up email
inquiring about the basis for Evers' position.
The conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty,
or WILL, is representing the farmer in the lawsuit. The firm issued
a statement Friday calling Evers' declaring that it's "heartened"
that Evers won't require wedding barns to get licenses. The
statement stopped short of saying the farmers would drop the
"We trust that this matter will promptly be resolves in a manner
that provides wedding barn owners and couples with the certainty
that they can continue with their business and plans for special
events," the statement said.
Asked directly whether the farmers will drop the lawsuit, WILL
spokesman Brian Reisinger provided a statement from WILL President
Rick Esenberg, who said the firm will consult with the farmers on
the next step and reach out to state attorneys to see "whether the
matter can be put to rest."
Republicans who control the state Legislature proposes a bill last
session that would have required private property owners who rent
out their space for an event to have a liquor license. The measure
won support from the powerful Tavern League of Wisconsin. The league
has argued that wedding barns should compete under the same rules as
bars and taverns.
The bill died in the state Senate after WILL complained the proposal
could end tailgating. State Rep. Rob Swearingen, a past tavern
league president and chairman of a special joint legislative
committee studying alcohol enforcement, asked Schimel for his
interpretation of statutes governing liquor licenses in public and
Both Swearingen and Schimel are Republicans. Schimel issued his
opinion on Nov. 16, just 10 days after he lost re-election.
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