Bill Signed Into Law Makes Major Change to Liquor Licensing

April 1, 2016

Earlier this week Governor Walker signed into law 2015 Wisconsin Act 286, which makes some significant changes to the state’s liquor licensing law.  Wisconsin has long had a quota system for the number of liquor licenses that a municipality may issue. The quota is based on the population of the municipality, and as a community grows it is authorized new “reserve” liquor licenses. The initial fee for these licenses is required to be a minimum of $10,000.  As a way to help economic growth, many municipalities offer grants or other incentives to offset that initial license fee. Under Act 286, however, municipalities are no longer able to rebate or refund the initial license fee. This is a major change for many municipalities throughout Wisconsin.

Also in Act 286 is a new provision that allows a municipality to “transfer” unused liquor licenses to a neighboring municipality, provided certain conditions are met. In addition, Act 286 allows for a municipality to exceed its quota of liquor licenses if the excess licenses are in what is called a “premier economic development district,” which includes developments that are expected to increase value in the district by at least $20 million. Municipalities are limited to just one premier economic development district, and only two liquor licenses can be issued in the district.