January 15, 2019

Does Wisconsin law require a "wedding barn" to have a license if it serves liquor?

The Cap Times reports on a new lawsuit brought by The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which we're told in the first line of the article is a conservative legal group. That's convenient for most Cap Times readers — they can know right off the bat that they want those wedding barns to get liquor licenses. Me, I'm still wondering, what are wedding barns?
The lawsuit, filed in Dunn County Circuit Court, is the latest development in a longstanding dispute between conservative advocacy groups, Republican legislators and alcohol businesses over how the state's alcohol laws should be interpreted and applied. Most lawmakers and business owners agree that the state's alcohol laws are unclear and disjointed but disagree on what to do about it.
It's like the state alcohol laws have been drinking and are staggering around and mumbling "Where am I?"
Lucas Vebber, an attorney for the Wisconsin Institute for Law Liberty, who is working on the lawsuit, said it was prompted by an opinion issued by former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel. Just before leaving office after he lost his re-election bid, Schimel in December wrote in a letter to a legislator that he considers wedding barns to be public spaces under the law....

Schimel's interpretation was a departure from how the state has understood the law in the past and caused an uproar among conservative groups and wedding barn owners, who say that they could be forced out of business if required to get liquor licenses.
So it's a conservative group that's bringing the lawsuit, but it's challenging an interpretation made by a Republican (the former attorney general).
Some wedding barns have opted to get a state liquor license, but many others say they should not have to because they do not sell, manufacture or distribute liquor on their premises.
I don't like the way that sentence is written. There's a legal argument that the licensing law doesn't apply because there is no sale, manufacture, or distribution of liquor. Taking the precaution of getting the license doesn't mean you don't agree with the argument.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin has advocated for licensing wedding barns in Wisconsin, arguing that because alcohol is consumed at the venues, which draw large numbers of people, it constitutes a public space and should be regulated like other public places where people consume alcohol....

The suit alleges that both businesses will be "significantly and negatively impacted by the continued uncertainty in the law," according to the suit. It is also calling for clarity in existing laws and a commitment to how the state will interpret them to "bring an end to the back-and-forth that has cast a dark shadow over the future of the plaintiffs' business." Both venues have contracts in place for events into 2020, according to the suit.
Let the legislature amend the law — if it can — and specifically cover wedding barns. Otherwise leave these people alone. Don't bully them into submission by threatening them with the possibility that an unclear law will be applied. The new Democratic Attorney General, Josh Kaul, has an opportunity to distinguish himself from the bad old Republican.

I had to independently research what a wedding barn is. Here: "The Best Barn Wedding Venues Madison, Wisconsin Has to Offer" ("There are plenty of barn wedding venues near Madison, Wisconsin that evoke a charming aesthetic for Midwestern weddings"). Lots of photographs to show you what these venues are like. The Octagon Barn looks pretty cool.

53 comments:

The Bergall said...

Big deal. Government should get their nose out of it.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

Not real clear but it sounds like the people holding the wedding, hiring the barn, are the ones providing the booze.

Not the barn owner or the venue.

Why should they need a liquor license?

If I own a baseball park or strip club and do not sell booze but allow people to bring their own, is a liquor license required in WI?

Some states have tried to stop strip clubs, for example, by not giving them liquor licenses. these places sell "setups" and the patrons bring their own.

In Virginia, in the 60's, restaurants could not sell booze. Only state booze stores could. They also sold setups so customers could bring their own.

John Henry

jaydub said...

The Tavern League of Wisconsin is just trying to eliminate the competition by means of the licensing gestapo. Nothing personal.

rehajm said...

All y'all can sort it out but some of these places are not barns but wedding/banquet halls with barn like decor. What's the rule for wedding/banquet halls?

JMW Turner said...

Three plus years ago my niece was married in a wedding barn,outside of Sevierville, Tennessee, home of Dollywood and other attractions. Beautiful, informal wedding, appropriate for this globe trotting Millennial generation. His buddies from Germany loved the large, you know,barn-like space, and, yes,my sister provided wine and champagne with a sit-down meal.

BarrySanders20 said...

“So it's a conservative group that's bringing the lawsuit, but it's challenging an interpretation made by a Republican (the former attorney general).”

Yes, the liberty and property rights-focused group challenging the statist/pro-regulatory opinion. There are lots of conservatives who are big government statists. Plus, Schimel needs a job, and lobbying can be lucrative for an ex Atty Gen

Dave Begley said...

Easy solution. Just exempt the wedding barns.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Wedding Barns?!?

Sounds like someone misunderstood the term animal husbandry.

gilbar said...

they do not sell, manufacture or distribute liquor on their premises.

as some space port from puerto rico pointed out: does this mean that city parks need licenses? what about state parks (with rent-able shelter houses? (where i've been to at least one wedding reception)). What about blogs? i'll bet that several people here, right now (at 7:10am!) are drinking... Does our Professor need a license?

if not, why not?

MayBee said...

If wedding barns have to get a license, what about hair salons and nail parlors? Lots of them offer a glass of wine with your service.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

Blogger BarrySanders20 said...

There are lots of conservatives who are big government statists.

I would say most conservatives are big government statists. I would say that is one of the defining characteristics of conservatism. To the extent that it has any characteristics at all.

Conservatives jut want to have their thumb on the scale. (Snout in the trough?)

That's why I take it as an insult when people call me a conservative.

John Henry

Dad29 said...

One of the challenges is that most townships/municipalities in Wisconsin have only X number of licenses, and X have been issued already; thus the wedding barn CANNOT obtain a license.

The question, I suppose, is whether the state (municipality, etc.) has an interest in limiting the number and kind of alcohol-serving entities. I happen to think that there is such an interest, whether public safety or concerns about public order, and thus limits can be set based on the judgment of the government.

Libertarians, who don't worry about those things, disagree. Oh, well.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

Not "some" spaceport, Gilbar. THE spaceport.

That may, someday, happen at the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. We were supposedly seriously in the running for Branson's spaceport until the governor stood him up for a meeting he came from England for.

I own www.prspaceport.com just in case he changes his mind. Or Bezos or Musk decide to use it.

There are some excellent reasons for it as a launch location having to do with absence of air routes and proximity to US.

Roosey was also supposed to become an international airport until the Mexicans bought San Juan airport. The govt gave them exclusive rights to all commercial international flights. I think I still own some names around the airport too.

John Henry

Dad29 said...

Schimel needs a job

Wrong. Schimel is now a Waukesha County circuit judge. Keep up with the news of several weeks ago, please.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

Blogger MayBee said...

If wedding barns have to get a license, what about hair salons and nail parlors? Lots of them offer a glass of wine with your service.

I would say hair/nail salons more than barns. If they are providing the wine, they are "selling" the wine. Perhaps not directly but it is included in the price of the nail care.

As I understand the barns, they do not provide the beer/wine/booze and thus do not sell it in any way.

John Henry

iowan2 said...

Yes, as others have already offered, learn the history before you start erecting massive legislative structures that will have countless unintended consequences. Years ago I was at a wedding reception in Missouri. Walked into the reception, found a keg of beer in each corner, and two bars that were full trays holding whiskey sours, or Gin and tonics. No servers. Two hours later I started to notice lots of coolers being carried in. All the free booze disappeared and everyone started drinking their own. The parent of the Bride came over to our group and gave us a cooler, as the bride had invited our group, and knew we weren't in tune with local customs.
The most effective solution for Wisconsin would be to tweek the laws and let counties do the interpreting. Local enforcement of local laws. If the people don't like it, they can elect representative more to their liking. If I remember correctly, Richland Center WI was the last dry town in WI. Maybe 20 years ago? There were half a dozen bars just outside city limits. Citizens got exactly what they wanted. On a side note. In Richland Center, the local farm supply store had an annual customer appreciation blowout. It included beer and liquor, they closed down two blocks of street, The Store asked the town council for a 24 hour exemption and always received it. Again, the people are in control of their lives. Not Madison

alanc709 said...

"I would say most conservatives are big government statists" makes no sense to me. True Conservatives are for smaller government. Many Republicans are big government statists, usually the right-wing progressives. Today's Republican party is pretty much the 1960's Democrat Party. The Republican party is by no means conservative in values, so let's not equate the two.

Roger Sweeny said...

Many, many, many years ago when I was a kid, we used to proudly say, "In America, anything that's not prohibited is permitted. In Russia, anything that's not permitted is prohibited." Each year, we seem to be getting closer to the latter. I don't like it. But, hey, it makes jobs for regulators, lawyers, compliance officers, etc. The nannies of both parties seem to like it (as do a lot of their constituents).

Guildofcannonballs said...

"I don't like the way that sentence is written. There's a legal argument is that the licensing law doesn't apply because there is no sale, manufacture, or distribution of liquor."

I don't like the way the second sentence above is written. It seems to be it should be either 1) There's a legal argument that the licensing law doesn't apply because ... or 2) The legal argument is that the licensing law doesn't apply because ...

MayBee said...

John Henry said....
As I understand the barns, they do not provide the beer/wine/booze and thus do not sell it in any way.

Good point, although barns are charging for the venue and could be said to be "serving" the wine by doing so.

Ann Althouse said...

"If wedding barns have to get a license, what about hair salons and nail parlors? Lots of them offer a glass of wine with your service"

I don't know but that's a bad analogy because the wedding barns don't provide the liquor. The people who rent the barn for their event bring in their own liquor.

Ann Althouse said...

"I don't like the way the second sentence above is written."

Neither do I. It had a stray "is," which I've now eliminated.

Sorry.

dbzdak said...

I recommend Schrute farms:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g52842-d730099-r59878214-Schrute_Farms-Honesdale_Pocono_Mountains_Region_Pennsylvania.html

tim in vermont said...

People who regularly serve alcohol as part of their business, no matter how they term it semantically, should be regulated. Sorry. Don’t get me started on drunken drivers.

gilbar said...

tim in vermont said...
People who regularly serve alcohol as part of their business, no matter how they term it semantically, should be regulated

yes, but this is about barns, and "they do not sell, manufacture or distribute liquor on their premises"

if you bring your own beer to a state park, does the state park need a license? How are these barns different?

John henry said...

Tim,

I agree but as far as I can tell the barns do nt in any way provide alcohol.

John Henry

tim in vermont said...

It’s not the same as a restaurant because people are no longer drinking as individuals at a wedding. We once hosted a wedding in our actual barn. We took every precaution, hiring a licensed bartender, ensuring rides were available, etc, etc... We didn’t sell anybody liquor or buy the liquor. It was always quite clear to us who held the moral responsibility should something go awry, nevertheless. Or at least whom the lawyers would decide held the moral responsibility. The idea of leaving liquor out for people to just take, without having to go through a bartender? No responsible host should ever allow that. This isn’t a “private party.” Regulate them.

Guildofcannonballs said...

On second thought, I don't like my #2 above, as there should always be plural legal arguments, at least in my little world.

But like Fredo trying to get Mike to stop all the killing and warfare and just make friends and pay off the Mo Greens so everyone gets rich not dead, how do I, with my meager credentials, correct an Emeritus? A mere typo sure, but grammatical structure? That is a bridge too far, hence my noted error above is excused by the normal nervousness of addressing superiors.

But ultimately, as others stated in a post yesterday, my unique drive and insight oughtn't be cut short because of the high liklihood of errors which can be accounted for with just a little sympathetic understanding, understanding I am prone to giving others but not lacking in ignorance of the low probability of corresponding responses addressing me.

tim in vermont said...

"they do not sell, manufacture or distribute liquor on their premises"

They must have a pretty narrow definition of the term “distribute.” And they should be the ones distributing the liquor, through a bartender who has a little training in spotting people who should be cut off. Not leaving the stuff out for even teenagers to take, while they look the other way. Even if they are not the ones selling the liquor.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Like Winston and booze, I've taken more from Althouse than I've given.

But I given a hell of a lot, more blood than Hemmingway's shotgun.

MountainMan said...

Here are some photos on the website of our city-owned wedding and event venue managed by our parks and rec department. An estate that was donated by a family 40 years ago. Includes a mansion, barn, and open air pavilion as well as an amphitheater and other outdoor venues. You can serve, not sell, alcohol at your event as long as you can show you have liability insurance that will cover your event. If you want to sell alcohol, you can easily get from the State of TN a 24-hour “special event” license. Quite a few old barns and mansions in East TN and SW VA converted to wedding and event venues but this one is the most popular, it is very inexpensive to rent. Stays booked up to a year in advance. We had our older daughter’s wedding in the mansion because it was small but the barn is used for many larger weddings and receptions. We didn't have alcohol. Great place.

Guildofcannonballs said...

"What we are not told, and I think we can guess why, is that booze played a large part in the lives of our most popular Revolutionary heroes. Like it or not, the American Revolution happened hand-in-hand with bouts of awe-inspiring drunkenness and the United States is a nation built upon intoxication."

https://drunkard.com/56-founding-drunkards/

Caligula said...

Alcohol laws everywhere in the USA are old and creaky, with more than a few dating back to the repeal of Prohibition.

Perhaps an argument can be made for a comprehensive overhaul of these laws, as attitudes toward drinking (and regulation in general) have changed over the past 80+ years.

But until/unless that's done, commercial venues where alcohol is consumed should comply with the law as it exists. Instead of creating yet another "wink-wink, I doan' see no alcohol here and we have no control over that anyway just because we own the venue" evasion.

SDaly said...

Void for vagueness. If people of good will cannot agree on whether activity is prohibited by the law, then, by default, you cannot be punished for that activity.

Birkel said...

John Henry,
You are discussing Republicans. Republicans definitely are as you describe. They don't mind big government as long as they have their thumb on the scale.

Conservatives are defined by wanting less government.

reader said...

Re Tim in Vermont

"they do not sell, manufacture or distribute liquor on their premises"

They must have a pretty narrow definition of the term “distribute.”

The majority of wedding venues that I have attended/interacted with do not distribute anything. They supply the location only. The wedding party supplies the tables, chairs, dance floor, linens, flowers, DJ, food (caterer), and alcohol (wedding party). The few that did provide something it was limited to tables and chairs.

So new question do caterers that cork/pour alcohol have to have a liquor license? The caterers that I have worked with do not provide alcohol, you provide your own. You then hire additional wait staff and pay a corking/pouring fee to the caterer. If you want the additional wait staff to keep an eye on the level of inebriation you pay more for an experienced bar tender (also through the caterer).

tim in vermont said...

So they collect a "corking fee" and yet take no responsibility for the level of drunkenness of the guests? Whatever, all I am saying is that there is no iron bound right to facilitate drunkenness in a public venue free of government interference.

tim in vermont said...

Think of it as a government corking fee. And they supply first responders to deal with potential mayhem.

RobinGoodfellow said...

Blogger jaydub said...
The Tavern League of Wisconsin is just trying to eliminate the competition by means of the licensing gestapo. Nothing personal.


Rent seekers gotta seek rents.

RobinGoodfellow said...


Blogger Ann Althouse said...
"If wedding barns have to get a license, what about hair salons and nail parlors? Lots of them offer a glass of wine with your service"

I don't know but that's a bad analogy because the wedding barns don't provide the liquor. The people who rent the barn for their event bring in their own liquor.


Ann,

I think that is the point. If salons, which actually provide and serve the alcohol, don’t need licenses, then why should a wedding barn, which doesn’t provide or serve the alcohol, need one?

reader said...

If the concern is the large number of people drinking and then driving why would it be limited to public venues. Then the law should be that any group or individual that hosts a gathering of x or more people at which alcohol is made available must either have a liquor license or obtain a temporary liquor license.

The wedding barns shouldn't be made subject to the law because they aren't the hosts. The wedding party is the host.

This would cover people like me. My husband and I have hosted several parties at our house at which alcohol was served. Two of those parties had 120 plus guests, two had 50 plus guests, and one had 30 plus guests. Two of those parties I had to corral people at the end until I could get them rides home (one of those was the memorial for my mother-in-law!).

jaydub said...

"The question, I suppose, is whether the state (municipality, etc.) has an interest in limiting the number and kind of alcohol-serving entities. I happen to think that there is such an interest, whether public safety or concerns about public order, and thus limits can be set based on the judgment of the government."

Of course you do. This is why a taxi medallion costs over $1 million in NYC, a studio apartment in SF rents for $3000, you can't buy a six pack of beer in the state of Pennsylvania except in a licensed bar and you can't order wine directly from a winery in most states. If there are no taxi licensing authorities, California coastal commissions, ABC boards or wine distribution monopolies then there is a significant reduction in the opportunity for graft for the local pols. All states already have laws that hold anyone serving alcohol liable for preventing or controlling over consumption as well as holding drivers responsible for not driving drunk. This type of licensing is simply a means to limit supply and drive up prices so as to either kill competition or provide the opportunity for graft.

Yancey Ward said...

If you are required to get a license even though you don't serve alcohol, you can be denied a license and forced out of business. This is what drives most licensing legislation of all kinds- restraint of trade.

Yancey Ward said...

You want to know who is pushing this- it is all the standard, non-barn wedding venues that serve alcohol themselves as part of the package- commercial wedding chapels, restaurants and others.

tim in vermont said...

I happen to think that charging money for something provides a bright line. This isn't taxi medallions, facts and context matter. Libertarianism is not a real world philosophy.

If someone is looking the other way as underage drinking is going on, or as people with car keys are over served, they should lose their license.

tim in vermont said...

Why shouldn't responsible businesses want competitors to be as responsible, rather than using semantics to avoid regulation that few would argue is unnecessary?

tim in vermont said...

When I host a large party, I get insurance, and the insurance company requires a certified bartender.

jaydub said...

Tim, your arguments sound like those of the wine distributors in NC that successfully prevented out of state wineries from shipping direct to residences for many years. The distributors argued that there is nothing to prevent an underage person from ordering wine from a winery and ignored the fact that you need a credit card, delivery locale, willingness to wait a couple of weeks for delivery, a signature for delivery, and a taste for California cabernet sauvignon instead of Bud Light. How many teenagers does that describe? Actually, what it took to get direct wine shipments to homes in NC was 1) for the state to develop a wine region of some substance (Yadkin Valley, eg), 2) the NC legislature to pass an exemption for home delivery for instate wineries, 3) a court challenge from out of state wineries for discrimination, and 4) a few exposes regarding how much campaign money was flowing to the state legislature from the alcohol distributors.

This, as is the case with most operating licenses, is not a question of public safety. Alcohol regulations are primarily an avenue for ensuring tax revenue and for facilitating political corruption. Besides, it's much more likely that younger wedding guests today will be smoking marijuana than drinking to excess at a wedding party, and New Hampshire can't license that and you can't insure it.

tim in vermont said...

If anyone is ignoring facts, I don't think that it's me. Sure government powers get abused all the time, that doesn't mean that they don't have an interest in public venues where.large amounts of alcohol is being served. It's like saying that there shouldn't be speed limits because they make it easier for train travel to compete with autos.

tim in vermont said...

A private persons throwing parties could be sued for everything they have, for profit corporations have been granted by the government limits on personal liability for the owners. If you are a libertarian, run your company in such a way as not to benefit from that protection, and we can talk. Meanwhile, I will say that the government has a right to tell you a few things about how to run your business.

Marcus said...

My daughter was married here in Jupiter, FL, two years ago yesterday. It was a venue on the water that was owned by the Wounded Warrior Project. Her mother and I had to make a donation to the charity, pay the wedding planner and select from two approved caterers. I bought all the liquor, they supplied two bartenders. It saved me a TON of money because that is where wedding venues rape the bride's father. I was able to purchase craft beers for the young people, some very expensive single malt whisky for my new son-in-law from Edinburgh and his groomsmen, who all wore kilts. I agree that the push to regulate such venues with requirements of a license are nothing but state governments sticking their fingers in the pie and making life difficult. In the absence of easily-detected good intentions, I infer that government is BAD BAD BAD. I saved a little money as I don't drink.

THEOLDMAN

Dad29 said...

This type of licensing is simply a means to limit supply and drive up prices so as to either kill competition or provide the opportunity for graft.

Showing off your M.S. in Cynicism, I see!

Problems with rent expense, taxi-medallion expense, etc. expense? Do what the Libertarians suggest: MOVE. In the alternative, elect a new Gummint. Or you can do something daring: flout the law and roll your dice.

I happen to be a Conservative, not a Republican, FYI. Conservatives believe in local control, and if local authorities (common council/whatever) decide that 20 liquor licenses are enough for their town, that's it, baby.

You apparently don't like any control at all. Think about that a bit while I drive down your tree-lined residential street between all the chilluns on trikes at say, 120 MPH.

jaydub said...

"Showing off your M.S. in Cynicism, I see!"

No, my masters degrees are in chemical engineering and operations research/systems analysis. I am merely drawing on my experiences regarding politicians and human nature during the last 74 years. Nor did I advocate no laws or no government, only that laws serve a purpose and not be manipulated for some rent seeker's benefit, which is what we're talking about here.

"Problems with rent expense, taxi-medallion expense, etc. expense? Do what the Libertarians suggest: MOVE. In the alternative, elect a new Gummint. Or you can do something daring: flout the law and roll your dice."

I'm not a libertarian. I'm mostly a conservative. I currently live in Spain, so I don't need to move anywhere to avoid control freaks in the US. But tell me, how does restricting the number of taxi medallions serve the NYC public versus serve the holders of those medallions? Does it put more taxi's on the street and, thus foster price competition and improved taxi availability or does it do the opposite? Is it really in the public interest to make the financial hurdle for market entry so steep, or is just in the interest of the local politicians to protect a special interest group of existing taxi operators with artificially inflated medallion pricing? Tell me Mr Conservative, what is the conservative position on open markets vs over regulated markets?

"Conservatives believe in local control, and if local authorities (common council/whatever) decide that 20 liquor licenses are enough for their town, that's it, baby."

Tell it to the citizens of Cook County IL, whose county commission is probably the most corrupt local government in the US. Do you think those commissioners always make altruistic decisions or do you think their decisions might occasionally be influenced by special interests? Do you think the San Francisco city government has the interest of the citizenry in mind when they enact laws to prevent the construction of housing, or do you think they are just protecting the artificially inflated real estate market in which they have an overriding interest? But more to the point, the real question is whether a liquor license for a venue that does not sell liquor makes sense or improves public safety. I seriously doubt it does and in the absence of some specific examples where wedding barns have fostered bacchanaal outrages, maybe it would be wise to dispense with the hyperbole and look at reality.

"You apparently don't like any control at all. Think about that a bit while I drive down your tree-lined residential street between all the chilluns on trikes at say, 120 MPH."

That may be the most intellectually shallow straw man ever erected. How does one honestly equate a question of easing market regulation with scenes from Mad Max from Thunderdome? Still, baby, as for driving down a residential street at 120 mph, I assume you would be okay with that so long as it was approved by the local gummit? Personally, I would be more likely to put a bullet in your head than complain to the local government. But that's just me.

You need to up your game and avoid specious arguments and ad homin attacks to be taken seriously.