A lawsuit filed Jan. 15 seeking to prevent wedding barn owners from needing a liquor license to host those events has prompted pushback from the Tavern League of Wisconsin.
Chris Marsicano, president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, sent a memo Jan. 22 to Wisconsin’s 99 state Assembly representatives and 33 state senators opposed to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 15 in Dunn County Court.
The lawsuit was filed by John Govin, who along with his wife, Julie, operates The Weddin’ Barn just east of Menomonie, and Jean Bohn, the owner of Farmview Event Barn in Berlin in eastern Wisconsin. They are represented by the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
The lawsuit against Gov. Tony Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul and the state Department of Revenue seeks clarification amid longstanding debate regarding whether barn owners should face the same regulations as other wedding venues in Wisconsin.
Allowing wedding barns to serve alcohol at those locations without obtaining a liquor license puts other venues, such as supper clubs that host wedding events, at a competitive disadvantage, Marsicano said.
“The ability to skirt this law creates a tremendous financial advantage for unlicensed party barns over properly licensed businesses in Wisconsin,” he said. “A couple seeking a wedding at an unlicensed barn can save thousands of dollars in costs compared to a properly licensed business.”
Wedding barns also are not subject to such regulations as closing hours, having licensed bartenders, sales tax collections and the state smoking ban, Marsicano wrote.
Govin said his wedding barn and others are not subject to such regulations because they are not taverns and are not profiting daily from serving alcohol. Instead, he said, wedding barns typically host events on some weekends.
“We are not selling alcohol,” Govin said. “We simply allow alcohol purchased and disbursed by others to be available at our site.”
In a news release issued last week, Bahn concurred, saying wedding barns are distinctly different than supper clubs and other businesses that host weddings.
The issue of wedding barn regulations has been prompted in part by the growing number of those sites in recent years in the Chippewa Valley and elsewhere across Wisconsin. The topic garnered further attention after state Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander and former president of the Tavern League, in November asked former Attorney General Brad Schimel for his interpretation of the law regarding wedding barn licensure.
Schimel issued an opinion that liquor licenses should be required at private events hosted at such public locations as wedding barns.
Whether state legislators will take up the issue remains uncertain. A spokeswoman for Evers’ office said the governor and the state Department of Revenue are starting study of the issue. Kaul has not yet issued an opinion on the matter.
Govin said he is optimistic his wedding barn and others will continue to be allowed to serve alcohol without liquor licenses. Regardless of how the issue is decided, he said barn owners need to know so they can determine whether their businesses will remain viable if licenses are needed.
“We need to know what the rules are going to be going forward,” he said.
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