Start stockpiling beer folks. The price of a thirty rack is about to skyrocket. Say goodbye to Hamm’s, wine and fun because we’re running out of alcohol. That’s right, Wisconsin, the undisputed Mecca of intoxicants, will soon face a crisis unparalleled in our proud history of drinking.

Well, I guess the stakes aren’t that dire, and no we’re not running out of liquor, but a proposed reform to Wisconsin’s byzantine alcohol laws has raised major questions about the business structures behind a state pastime. Less exciting than the implosion of our social fabric? Yes. Less important? For sure.

But, the ongoing booze battle has implications for the future of an industry of statewide importance and it offers insight into how state lawmakers craft policy and regulations.

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The current system is bad, with alcohol manufacturers complaining about not even knowing how to follow the law. Nobody seems to understand how to enforce these confusing and outdated regulations. But it’s clear that the latest reform measure is a half-baked idea designed to benefit specific industry players. Fortunately, it appears destined to go nowhere.

This flare-up started with a conflict in the legislature a couple weeks ago. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald proposed new legislation to create an “alcohol czar,” who, despite an awesome title, would be tasked with a fairly difficult job — enforcing Wisconsin’s alcohol regulations, issuing liquor permits and developing rules for the industry. It’s a broad mandate and the Majority Leader favors a political appointment.

While this would guard against a deluge of unqualified applicants (what frat star wouldn’t want to be the “alcohol czar”?), one could easily see an industry insider being appointed. This would be a clear conflict of interest and leave Wisconsin’s alcohol laws to be overseen by a czar without Wisconsin’s best interests at heart. In addition, the Fitzgerald proposal seems to clearly benefit his brother and a top campaign contributor. It’s not exactly the poster child of good governance.

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When making his announcement, Majority Leader Fitzgerald complained about a glaring lack of enforcement in Wisconsin’s liquor laws. Which means that, in order to understand what this guy’s talking about, we have into delve into the chaos that is Wisconsin alcohol policy.

Wisconsin currently uses a three-tier system, that draws boundaries between the manufacturers (the guys actually making the beer), the distributors (think Budweiser clydesdales or the keg trucks you’ve always dreamed of robbing), and the retailers (the jerks who ID you). Each set of actors has a different set of rules governing what they can and can’t do and they have to work together to keep Wisconsinites lubricated. While just about every state has some form of the three-tier system, Wisconsin’s system is distinguished by a lack of clarity.

The problem is that the laws are really old and poorly written and nobody can decide exactly what they mean or how they should be enforced. The situation is like a fantasy from a lawmaker’s dream, in which our enterprising lawmaker can finally do something worthwhile for the people of Wisconsin.

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However, each player (team Brewer, team Clydesdale and team jerk) invests serious money in lobbying efforts at the State Capitol. And, each team stands to make (or lose) a lot of money if the State changes how it enforces its laws or changes the laws themselves. It’s that rare moment in which the problem seems tailor-made for an effective government solution. Unfortunately, our lawmakers seem to care more about protecting the specific industry

It’s time for our politicians to put on their big kid pants, and act like adults instead of spoiled children attached to one particular sandbox toy. Smart regulations take the voices of industry into account and all three teams deserve a seat at the table.

But, the people of Wisconsin deserve representatives who want to craft effective and beneficial legislation for their constituents, not whatever team contributes to their campaign. This is a relatively small issue, but how policymakers approach it in the next several months says a lot about their character and the quality of our current government.

Will Maher ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in history and international studies.