Wisconsin Alcohol Study Committee Avoids the Hard Questions


Facing pressure to reform the state’s three-tier system of alcohol distribution, Wisconsin lawmakers appointed a study committee to review the state’s alcohol regulations. As the committee completes its work, it looks like it largely avoided delving into the most contested and controversial issues, according to The Cap Times:

Disputes over how Wisconsin's alcohol beverage industry is regulated and enforced are set to continue as a legislative study committee winds down this month, and questions remain about how Democrat Gov.-elect Tony Evers' administration will approach the issue.

The legislative study committee was assembled earlier this year to examine how the state's alcohol beverage laws are enforced, or not. But the committee never dealt with the primary gripe of the state's growing craft beverage industry: that the state's alcohol laws, known as the three-tier system, should be altered and modernized to accommodate a changing business landscape.

The committee instead focused on the interpretation of current alcohol laws by the state Department of Justice, and the degree to which they are enforced by the state Department of Revenue - both of which are ostensibly more unclear with the election of Democrat Evers than they were when the committee convened…

Read more here.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Decides Against Protecting Wine Distributors


Most states use so-called Franchise Laws or other legal mechanisms to effectively lock alcohol producers into contracts with distributors. But the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently handed down a decision involving the state's Fair Dealership Law, which protects alcohol distributors by making distributor contracts harder to terminate. In its ruling, WisBar News reports that the court held Wisconsin wine distributors were not protected under this system:

In an unusual certification from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled (4-3) that “dealerships” with wine distributors are not protected by the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law (WFDL).

Capitol-Husting Co. Inc. and another wine distributor argued that importer Winebow Inc. could not unilaterally terminate their business relationship under the WFDL, Wis. Stat. chapter 135, which says dealership agreements cannot be cancelled unless the grantor shows good cause to cancel the agreement.

But Winebow argued that showing good cause was not needed because the wine distributors are not protected by the WFDL. Specifically, Winebow argued that the WFDL protects “intoxicating liquor” dealerships, which doesn’t include wine.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals certified the case to the state Supreme Court to ask whether the definition of a “dealership” includes wine grantor-dealer relationships...

Read more about the ruling here.

Wisconsin Legislature Considers Lowering the Drinking Age


A group of state legislators in Wisconsin are urging their colleagues to consider lowering the state's legal drinking age from 21 to 19. According to The Daily Cardinal, Wisconsin already has some of the more flexible drinking laws in the county, as minors in the state are permitted to drink booze if accompanied by a legal guardian:

"Already one of the booziest states in the union, Wisconsin could allow residents as young as 19 to belly up to the bar and walk through liquor stores under proposed legislation.

The bill, introduced by three Republican state legislators, would set Wisconsin apart from the rest of the country by lowering the drinking age from the federally-mandated 21 to 19.

Wisconsin’s alcohol regulation policies already stand out nationally, as minors are allowed to consume alcohol with a guardian of legal age.

Departing from federal standards, however, does not come free: States that do so lose crucial federal money. In Wisconsin, that loss could amount to over $50 million per year..."

Read the whole story here.

Wisconsin Legislator Introduces Bill to Reform State's Three-Tier System

According to The Cap Times, several Wisconsin lawmakers have introduced a bill that would reform the Badger State's three-tier alcohol distribution system by creating greater permitting flexibility and enacting other substantive changes:

"State Republican lawmakers say they want to restart a conversation about the state’s liquor laws by introducing a bill they say will remove barriers to business growth.

Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, on Tuesday filed a bill that he said aims to change a series of state liquor laws called the three-tier system. The system regulates how liquor, beer and wine are manufactured, distributed and sold in Wisconsin. For example, a business that makes alcohol cannot also distribute it. In addition, within the system, businesses that make the alcohol — brewers, wineries and distilleries — each have distinct rules they must follow.

Tauchen and his supporters, including Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, who owns a winery, say there needs to be more flexibility within that system.

The regulatory structure was originally intended to prevent monopolies, but small craft brewers and wineries — which often operate their own tasting rooms or brewpubs — say it now does the opposite. Zimmerman and Tauchen say a fundamental change in policy is needed..."

Read more about the proposed changes here.

Wisconsin legislators mulling proposal to curb craft brewery on-premise sales

Are Wisconsin lawmakers thinking about clamping down on on-site brewery taproom sales? Chris Crowell summarizes recent happenings in the Badger State for Craft Brewing Business:

"This is apparently the hot new thing for wholesaler lobbying groups to pitch to their state governments: Cutting back on taproom and to-go beer, on-premise sales, in order to reroute more of that business through distributors. To Southern states, this is old news, but Nebraska and Texas have dealt with this to some degree recently, and now legislators in Wisconsin had their monocles fixated on one such proposal earlier this month, according to the Green Bay Gazette..."

Read the rest here: https://www.craftbrewingbusiness.com/news/wisconsin-legislators-mulling-proposal-to-curb-craft-brewery-on-premise-sales/

UPDATE: The AP reports that Wisconsin brewers are worried that last-minute regulations targeting their ability to sell directly to consumers could be snuck into the state's budget legislation. DrinksReform.org will continue to monitor developments in Wisconsin as we learn more.

Wisconsin Tavern League, beer distributors draft plan to narrow distribution laws

Wisconsin beer distributors and other lobbying groups are seeking to change the state's distribution laws, including creating a new government office called the Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement. As Katelyn Ferral reports for The Capital Times, craft alcohol producers in the state are pushing back:

"The Wisconsin Tavern League, along with two other lobby groups want to narrow how the state regulates companies that manufacture, distribute and sell alcoholic beverages and create a new government office with broad discretion to regulate the industry. 

The Wisconsin Tavern League, Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute  want to create an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement to crack down on violations, according to a draft of the plan obtained by the Cap Times Thursday. 

The proposal would  narrow the state's three-tiered system — a series of laws that regulates how alcoholic beverages are manufactured, distributed and sold in the state — and create a fee structure for businesses that violate the system. Under the proposed structure, businesses could be fined up to $10,000 for some violations, including failing to buy beer from a wholesaler. The Office of Alcohol Beverage Enforcement could also issue civil penalties for those who do not comply with the law.

Craft beverage companies, including New Glarus Brewing Company which makes Spotted Cow beer, have come out against the plan. 

'This is something we’ve seen floated around for a few years by liquor wholesalers,' said Deb Carey, founder and president of New Glarus. 'I do support the three-tiered system, however over the last 10 or 15 years it has become increasingly flawed and doesn't really protect the manufacturers, whether they're wineries or breweries and that’s disheartening.'

The plan is 'just bad business' and there is no need for it as the Department of Revenue already has a staff member regulating licenses, Carey said..."

Read the rest of the article here: http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/updated-wisconsin-tavern-league-beer-distributors-draft-plan-to-narrow/article_a50900d6-ceb6-5d01-b410-d65f9d1eb0c6.html



Free America’s beverage markets!

R Street's Kevin Kosar writes:

Some alcoholic beverage sales policies are sensible. Disallowing the retail sale of intoxicating beverages in the wee hours of the morning aims to decrease dangerous behavior by stopping already-intoxicated individuals from buying more alcohol and getting drunker still. Requiring anyone who makes alcoholic beverages to specify a beverage’s alcohol content is truth in labeling.

The sensible policies, sadly, are not the only ones. Myriad regulations bear no relationship to the public good, limit consumer choice and profit the politically well-connected at a cost to the public. Some examples include:

(1) In Massachusetts, the Demosthenes Greek-American Democratic Club got hauled before state regulators for buying liquor from…a liquor store. By diktat of the state government, such establishments may only purchase from wholesalers....

Read more at http://www.rstreet.org/2015/05/28/free-americas-beverage-markets/