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Conservative Group Plans Lawsuit On Behalf Of Wedding Barns

Lawsuit Is Aimed At Preventing Them From Having To Get Liquor Licenses

Eron's Event Barn
Wedding barns, like this one owned by John Eron of Portage County, are a growing part of Wisconsin’s agricultural tourism industry. Glen Moberg/WPR

A conservative group plans to file a lawsuit aimed at preventing the state of Wisconsin from requiring wedding barns to obtain liquor licenses.

While that isn’t happening now, officials with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty said a court order could help clear up uncertainty caused by former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel during his final months in office.

Wedding barns have grown in popularity, using a business model that lets patrons bring their own alcoholic beverages to events. Because the barn owners are renting the space but not supplying or serving the alcohol, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue hasn’t required them to obtain liquor licenses.

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Schimel argued that should change. In a letter requested by state Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, Schimel argued that venues rented for functions like weddings, birthdays or retirement parties should be treated as public spaces, which means they would require liquor licenses.

While Gov. Scott Walker’s state Department of Revenue disagreed with Schimel’s argument, the WILL complaint, to be filed in Dunn County Circuit Court, argues it has put wedding barn owners in a difficult position.

“They are now subject to business losses and the possibility of criminal penalties due to the significant uncertainty regarding the interpretation of public place,” according to a draft copy of the complaint.

The case lists two businesses as plaintiffs: Farmview Event Barn, LLC in Berlin and Govin’s, LLC and Govin’s Meats and Berries, LLC in Menominee.

It’s being filed against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and Revenue Secretary Peter Barca, all in their official capacities.

Asked about the lawsuit Tuesday, Evers’ office did not take a position.

“The governor and secretary-designee Barca are still learning more about this issue,” said Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff.

Kaul’s office also did not weigh in on the case.

“The Department of Justice is reviewing the lawsuit at this time,” said Kaul spokeswoman Gillian Drummond.

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