Wisconsin legislature considers “wedding barn” regulation

Some Wisconsin legislators want to create new regulations and licensing requirements for agricultural tourism facilities such as wedding barns.

Assembly Bill 304 includes language that would require most wedding barn and event venues to have a liquor license, even though the weddings are private invitation-only events.

Steve Nagy operates Homestead Meadows, a wedding barn near Appleton, and told an Assembly Committee on State Affairs hearing his clients hire a licensed vendor and licensed bartenders to serve at his site, and he doesn’t want the expense and overhead of having a liquor license. “Wedding barns don’t make or sell alcohol, and we don’t want to, and if we have to, the business model doesn’t work.” He says, “If you impose bar and restaurant-type regulations when alcohol is legally being catered in, either by the private event that’s hosting it, you know, when you do things like that, that really does put one business extinct, and that would be wedding barns and any type of ag tourism businesses.”

Nagy argues ag tourism sites including wedding barns should have the same exemptions as campgrounds, and tailgate parties for the Packers and Badgers.

One of the bill’s authors, Representative Rob Swearingen is a Rhinelander restaurant owner and former Tavern League of Wisconsin vice president.  He testified the bill creates the opportunity for wedding barns to obtain the liquor license. “Once they clarify that you are doing 20 thousand dollars a year, whether you have a dozen events or more, whatever the case may be, actually in the bill, it automatically if they meet those qualifications, they’ll be granted a liquor license.”

But it’s a license most operators don’t want because they don’t want the expense of a permanent facility and could no longer have the beverages provided by a caterer.

The bill would allow wedding barns to operate as they do now, but only if they have fewer than six events a year and no more than one per month.

Some of the wedding barns are a secondary source of income for farms that no longer have dairy herds or other livestock.

Assembly Bill 304 also has language updating how the Department of Revenue regulates distilleries and wineries in Wisconsin. The bill passed the Committee on State Affairs Thursday on a 13-1 vote.

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