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Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a bipartisan law now allows Wisconsin restaurants to serve to-go cocktails and wine in an attempt to save struggling businesses. 

Restaurants, taverns can serve to-go mixed drinks under new law

Last week, Gov. Tony Evers signed into law on Friday a measure allowing retailers to sell cocktails and wine to-go after the bill received broad bipartisan support in the state legislature.  

Under the new law, which took effect Sunday, restaurants and taverns with a Class B liquor license can sell liquor to go by the glass if the container has a tamper-evident seal. Before the act, restaurants were allowed to sell to-go alcohol if it was in its original packaging.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic, restaurants have said a measure like this would help their business during the pandemic. The bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in February, including Rep. Francesca Hong, D-Madison, and Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander.

“Whatever side of the aisle you’re on, [the] hospitality industry is a bipartisan issue,” Tavern League President Chris Marsicano told Channel 3000. “With the lockdowns especially Madison, Dane and Milwaukee, it’s been extremely hard on the hospitality industry. I think we’ve been hit harder than most, and I think our legislators realize that, and knew we needed this help.”

Multiple organizations representing businesses and restaurants supported the bill, including the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. 

Kristi Brown, senior director of State Government Relations for the trade association Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, also supported the new law which would “[provide] increased convenience to customers.”

“Cocktails to-go provide a much-needed lifeline for struggling on-premise locations and have prevented the permanent closure of many of these businesses,” Brown said

Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, who helped introduce the bill, said that Wisconsin is the thirty-fourth state to enact the policy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants in Madison have seen decreased profits during the pandemic. 

"The restaurants and bars that I'm speaking with are really, really struggling," Steffen said. "If we want to retain them as an important part of our economy, our community, our culture here in Wisconsin, we can't let the speed of government be involved in this one. We need to move as quickly as possible.”

The law is among a group of 14 bills Evers signed into law last Friday. Evers also vetoed two bills, including a measure that would require the governor to submit a plan to the legislature for state employees to return to work in-person. 

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Annabella Rosciglione

state news writer

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