Republicans looking to toughen Wisconsin alcohol enforcement

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Republicans are making another run at toughening the state’s alcohol regulations, with the GOP Senate leader saying Tuesday that the current laws governing brewers, distillers, distributors and retailers “are not being enforced, period.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he has been working behind the scenes with interested parties since November on potential changes. There were talks last year of reworking the state’s complicated three-tier system for regulating the production, distribution and sale of alcohol, but nothing passed.

Fitzgerald said changes are needed because current enforcement efforts at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue have “fallen apart” since the retirement of a person who had overseen that work.

“The alcohol statutes in Wisconsin are not being enforced, period,” Fitzgerald told reporters. Some are taking advantage of it, Fitzgerald said, without naming any particular offenders. He said that “everyone” was concerned with a lack of enforcement.

Fitzgerald promised to release a draft of the bill Tuesday. He said he hoped to have a public hearing on the measure Thursday, a fast turnaround as Republicans look to complete their work for the year next month.

The MacIver News Service on Tuesday published the draft of a bill, requested by Fitzgerald, that would create a new “alcohol czar” position, similar to a proposal floated last year that died under broad opposition. Under the bill draft, alcohol administration and enforcement would be the responsibility of a newly created Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement within the Department of Revenue.

The Revenue Department’s current powers related to alcohol enforcement, including issuing of certain alcohol permits, making warrantless arrests and confiscating illegal booze, would be transferred to the new office. The director would be appointed by the governor and confirmed to a six-year term by the Senate.

Fitzgerald said he hasn’t talked directly with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos or Gov. Scott Walker about any potential changes, but they both were aware that he was working on the proposal.

“I feel like what we have before us is the result of a ton of negotiation,” Fitzgerald said.

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