By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

A proposed law to increase the window of opportunity for store alcohol sales has moved through the state senate and is now awaiting Gov. Scott Walker’s signature.

Lawmakers gave mixed votes to the proposal, which passed with 23 ayes and eight nays.

Among those voting in favor of Senate Assembly Bill 44 was state Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, whose district includes the Waterford area.

Lazich said she voted in favor of the bill because it will even the playing field between grocers and bars, which are already permitted to open at 6 a.m. and begin serving alcohol.

“This legislation really is about trying to bend over backward for small businesses,” Lazich said. “Small business owners had been requesting this, and that’s how (the bill) got started.”

As proposed, the bill applies to retailers holding a Class A license for the sale of intoxicating beer and liquor.

The language amends existing legislation and hypothetically allows permit-holding retailers to sell alcohol at 6 a.m. daily – a departure from existing laws that sets the bar at 8 a.m. daily.

Municipalities have the power at the local level to set parameters and would still have the ability to pass ordinances stating when alcohol can be sold.

The proposed bill has received bipartisan support, but has drawn controversy from a number of outside organizations, including the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (SCAODA).

“(We are) concerned with any legislation or policy that increases access and availability of alcohol,” Michael Waupoose, chairman of the SCAODA, wrote in a recent letter to Walker.

“The regulation of alcohol availability is important because research shows that when alcohol is more easily available, people drink more and more alcohol problems occur.”

Waupoose continued: “We also know there is a direct correlation between greater availability of alcohol and increased crime.”

But most state lawmakers hold a different perspective.

State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, said the bill really is about enhancing consumer choice in Wisconsin.

“The important thing is to keep in mind this does not promote alcohol consumption,” Kedzie said. “It promotes availability. It remains a local decision and creates more flexibility for each municipality.”

State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, voted against the bill. Cullen did not respond to calls seeking comment on his decision against the proposal.

A number of lawmakers first introduced the draft bill in March: State Sens. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend; Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan; and Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay.

It was cosponsored by State Reps. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater; Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah; Scott Krug, R-Wisconsin Rapids; Dan LeMahieu, R-Cascade; Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac; Karl Van Roy, R-Green Bay; and Bob Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc.

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