Wisconsin Senate approves allowing bars and restaurants to sell drinks to go

MADISON – The Wisconsin Senate agreed Tuesday to allow people to grab alcoholic drinks to go at bars, restaurants, grocers and liquor stores.

The surprise move drew broad bipartisan support. Senators sent a bill affecting bars and restaurants to Gov. Tony Evers and a broader measure to the Assembly, where its fate is unclear. 

Assembly Bill 32 would allow bars and restaurants to sell wine and mixed drinks in sealed containers for curbside or in-store pickup.

That would give them a new way to boost sales during the coronavirus pandemic when they have seen their sales plummet.

Under current law, bars and restaurants can sell drinks to go only if they are in their original packaging. They can sell a bottle of wine to go, but not a glass of wine to go.

The Assembly passed the bill on a voice vote last week and the Senate approved it 28-2 on Tuesday. Senate Democratic Leader Janet Bewley of Mason and Republican Sen. Julian Bradley of Franklin cast the votes against it.

The Senate’s vote sends the bill to the Democratic governor. He has not said whether he will sign it. 

Also Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 56, which would allow retailers to sell alcohol for curbside pickup. It goes further than the other legislation because it would allow grocers and liquor stores to make such sales. 

Under that legislation, retailers could take orders over the phone or through cellphone applications and allow customers to pick them up in designated parking lots at their establishments. 

It’s unclear if the Assembly will follow suit and take up that broader measure.

Whether to allow selling alcohol to go has been simmering at the state Capitol for a year, with restaurants, bars and others saying they needed help during the pandemic. Until this month, lawmakers offered few signs they would take up such measures. 

Critics have raised concerns that curbside pickups could contribute to drunken driving or allow alcohol to more easily get into the hands of those who are under 21. 

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.