The Rustic Barn at Prairie Gardens

The Rustic Barn at Prairie Gardens, W212 Spring Prairie Road, Spring Prairie, just west of Burlington, is one of a handful of wedding barns in the area. It has a liquor license, ensuring it will not be adversely affected by the outcome of a statewide debate on whether wedding barns should be required to have liquor licenses to host events where alcohol is served. However, not all area wedding barn operators have liquor licenses, putting the future of their businesses at risk. 

RACINE COUNTY — Wedding barn operators across the state are looking to Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul to get down on one knee to make a proposal.

With wedding season rapidly approaching, a legal debate about wedding barns being able to operate with or without a liquor license is bearing down on those involved in the business.

“I am sympathetic to the folks who own these wedding barns,” state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said. “But I also understand the perspective of the folks who did it a different way.”

Brad Schimel, the state’s previous attorney general, waited until after he lost his bid for re-election in the fall of 2018 before issuing a non-binding opinion stating that wedding barns did need liquor licenses.

With hundreds of wedding barn operators across the state checking to see if they have a valid liquor license or if the municipality they operate in has any liquor licenses left to issue, some operators may be worrying they could get shut down.

“It’s a problem,” Vos said. “But you also can’t say if there’s not enough liquor licenses you can just do it anyways, because we have a liquor-license system.”

Vos said he has authored proposals that would allow for municipalities with available licenses to provide those to neighboring municipalities that don’t have any available, but buying a liquor license from a neighboring municipality is not an option for all businesses.

It’s possible the Legislature may have to step in to solve the problem, Vos said.

“Now we have to figure it out,” Vos said. “I don’t know what the right answer is because I certainly don’t think it’s fair that somebody who’s done this for eight or nine years is all of a sudden going to be shut down.”

However, Vos said it also is not fair for those wedding barn operators who have gone through the proper channels to secure what they need to be compliant with the law.

Vos said the Evers administration, along with Kaul, need to take a position on the issue before legislation, if any, is put together.

“It’s hard for us to say ‘we’re going to pass a new law’ until we know what these two new (officials) are going to do first,” Vos said.

“I am sympathetic to the folks who own these wedding barns. But I also understand the perspective of the folks who did it a different way.” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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