, ,

Wedding barn owners sue over changes requiring them to get liquor licenses

Lawsuit alleges sweeping overhaul of state alcohol laws violates Wisconsin Constitution

Photo: Edwin Land (CC-BY)

Two wedding barn owners have filed a lawsuit challenging a sweeping overhaul of Wisconsin’s alcohol laws, arguing a new requirement that forces them to either get a liquor license or limit the number of events they hold each year is unconstitutional.

The suit filed against the state Department of Revenue makes good on a promise from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty that it would challenge a revamp of state alcohol laws signed by Gov. Tony Evers in December. 

WILL is representing Farmview Event Barn owner Jean Bahn of Berlin and Monarch Valley Wedding and Events owner Daniel Gallagher of Blair. They argue the revisions to alcohol regulations violate their right to earn a living under the Wisconsin Constitution. 

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The suit also claims the changes violate the owners’ right to equal protection under the constitution because wedding barns are now defined as a public space. That requires them to get liquor licenses or special “no sale event venue” permits that limit the number of events they can host to six each year. The law exempts other public spaces, such as campgrounds and parking lots like those used for tailgating outside Lambeau Field. 

“A private event at my private property is now going to be public,” Bahn told WPR. “But any event at a public park is not public? It’s just nonsensical the way they’ve changed the language.”

Green Bay Packer fans tailgate outside Lambeau Field.
Green Bay Packer fans tailgate outside Lambeau Field before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 13, 2022. The NFL draft will be coming to Green Bay and historic Lambeau Field in 2025, NFL officials announced on Monday, May 22, 2023. Mike Roemer/AP Photo

When state lawmakers fast-tracked the alcohol regulation overhaul, they rejected several amendments that would have expanded the ability of wedding barns to serve alcohol without liquor licenses.

Bahn said the wedding barn language was “written to eliminate competition.” The provisions are set to take effect Jan. 1, 2026. 

Bahn said she knows many wedding barn owners who are thinking about getting liquor licenses, but she isn’t one of them. 

“I have no desire to run a tavern, I have no desire to start trying to deal with all the ins and outs of getting distributors and storing extra product,” Bahn said. 

WILL Deputy Counsel Lucas Vebber said it’s a clear violation of wedding barn owners’ rights.

“It just creates a lot of issues for a lot of people,” Vebber said. “And for our clients, it effectively will put them out of business or at least significantly hurt their ability to stay in business.”

He said state government should not be picking favorites. 

“The law is, at best, just a nonsensical law,” Vebber said. “It is, at worst, cronyism and economic protectionism. And either way, it would violate the constitution.”

WPR reached out to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other Republican lawmakers who supported the changes to the state’s alcohol laws, but none returned a request for comment on the lawsuit.