RNC 2024: Bars could stay open until 4 a.m. during convention

RNC 2024: Bars could stay open until 4 a.m. during convention

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- There's renewed push to extend bar hours when Milwaukee hosts tens of thousands of attendees during the 2024 Republican National Convention.

Bars across southeast Wisconsin could remain open until 4 a.m. from July 15 to July 19, 2024 when convention-goers are in town under a provision Gov. Tony Evers included in his state budget proposal.

Fourteen counties including, Kenosha, Racine, Walworth, Rock, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson, Dane, Ozaukee, Washington, Dodge, Columbia, Sheboygan, and Fond du Lac would be allowed to extend their hours as long as the municipality adopts a resolution to allow establishments to stay open later.

Currently, bars and restaurants statewide must close at 2 a.m. on weekdays and 2:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

A similar proposal to keep bars open until 4 a.m. was introduced when Milwaukee was chosen to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention, but the measure died in the Senate after lawmakers ended session as the COVID-19 pandemic took off.

The bill never gained traction when COVID-19 restrictions transformed the event into a largely all-virtual presentation.

A spokesman for The Tavern League of Wisconsin, who advocated for the bill three years ago, tells CBS 58 they are working on their own proposal which is similar to Gov. Evers' for their members to benefit when thousands visit Wisconsin for the RNC.

"I've talked to a number of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, and the consistent message is we're going to get this done," said Scott Stenger, government affairs officer for the Tavern League of Wisconsin.

"The ultimate goal is you want people to leave the great state of Wisconsin and say, we had a hell of a good time in Milwaukee. We don't want a situation where people can't have their dinner if it's that late at night."

Stenger did not elaborate what's included in their proposal but said it's likely to be as introduced as a separate bill.

The bill faced hurdles during the 2020 Legislative session after bill sponsor Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) added a provision to regulate wedding barns that sell alcohol and other private venues.

That provision was eventually removed and was replaced with an amendment to add a surcharge on drunk driving tickets that would fund the Tavern Leagues Safe Ride program. It passed the Assembly with bipartisan support, but never received a vote in the Senate.

Swearingen said if Evers' proposal is stalled in the budget process, he offered to include the provision in other legislation or introduce it as a stand-alone bill. 

"As with the DNC proposal, this legislation is not partisan," Swearingen said. "At the end of the day, this bill is not about red or blue it’s about the green color of money. We want to ensure that the greater Milwaukee area's tourism and hospitality industry can maximize their financial benefit from the number of potential visitors generated by this event."

Not everyone was a fan of the extended hours. Back then, some lawmakers did express concerns about the harmful impacts it could have by allowing people to drink longer.

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