The State Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to legalize alcohol sales earlier in the day, expanding the number of hours Wisconsinites can purchase alcohol each day.
Under current law, a Class A liquor license allows establishments such as liquor or grocery stores to begin selling alcohol at 8 a.m.. The new Republican-authored Assembly bill would change that time to 6 a.m.
The bill will now go to the Senate for approval.
Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, said he decided to author the bill because Wisconsin residents complained they were not able to buy alcohol at an earlier hour. Wynn said late-night shift workers and people shopping early for a holiday were not able to buy alcohol during current hours.
Health groups spoke out against the Assembly’s passage of the bill at a floor meeting Monday. Paul Krupski, policy and grassroots specialist for Health First Wisconsin, explained why Health First opposed the bill.
“This bill gives consumers extra convenience, but Wisconsin is the number one state when it comes to binge drinking,” Krupski said. “We are in the top states for DUIs. All these things combined are examples of the price we pay for this convenience. We know that increased availability for alcohol leads to increased drinking.”
Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention spokesperson Francie Peardon said there are several different factors to take into consideration with respect to the bill. She also said increasing the hours of alcohol sales may have unintended consequences to the public health of Wisconsin.
Wynn addressed concerns about the increase of access to alcohol. He argued that cases like drunken driving stem from sales by Class B licensed locations such as bars, not Class A locations like grocery stores or gas stations.
Krupski responded by saying drunken driving incidences do not result solely from sale by Class B locations.
“While that may be the case, definitely not every [Operating While Intoxicated citation] comes from a Class B license,” Krupski said. “A vast number of DUIs come from Class B licenses, where people are purchasing alcohol, taking it to their home … and then driving from there.”
Wynn said Wisconsin’s high OWI offenses did not necessarily correlate with alcohol sale hours. According to Wynn, both California and New York have 24-hour alcohol sales, but neither have high numbers of OWI incidents.
Krupski also said OWIs are not the only issue at hand with the bill. He said violence, sexual violence and risky behavior also increase when the availability of alcohol increases. Krupski said Health First Wisconsin plans to fight the the bill in the Senate with other associated groups.
According to Wynn, the bill would allow each municipality to decide its own alcohol sale hours.
“If Whitewater wants to make the hours 10 a.m. they can,” Wynn said. “If Madison doesn’t want to sell alcohol on Sunday, they can do that, because it gives each community their own liquor hours.”