Feb 13, 2020

ACTION NEEDED: Alcohol Issues and Tip Declaration Bills

Milwaukee SkylineWe need you to act today! WRA has two bills important to the hospitality industry up for a vote in the Assembly February 20th, which is the last day the Assembly will be in session before next January. Both bills need to pass this session!

AB 869
We need you to contact your legislators today and ask them to vote in support of the amended version of AB 869. This amended version does not contain the Private Event Venue and Winery Closing Hour provisions that were in the original bill.

Here is why this bill is important to pass this session:

  • Extension of bar time to 4:00 a.m. during the DNC Convention

    Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin will host the Democratic National Convention (DNC), July 12-16, 2020. This event will bring over 50,000 people from all over the United States and the world to participate—as delegates, news media and general observers. Unlike any other large event that has visited the state, the DNC brings a wide range of visitors—many with large disposable income or expense accounts funding their visit. This convention traffic benefits more than just the counties surrounding Milwaukee—it impacts WRA members statewide. In addition, if Wisconsin successfully rolls out the red carpet for an event as large as this convention, our ability to attract other large tourism events greatly improves.

    The DNC is a prime time television event—activities at the Fiserv Forum and surrounding security zone will not end until 11:00 p.m. or Midnight. This means delegates, media and other visitors will not return to their hotel areas until after Midnight. This late night return does not only effect the voting delegates who are staying in adjacent counties. We already know that media outlets and large non-delegate groups have contracted with hotels in Sheboygan, Walworth and Dane counties. We expect more hotels and resorts in other parts of Wisconsin to be utilized as well.

    This late evening travel means that visitors will be looking for late night food and beverages in and near their hotels. Most of these visitors will be walking or using ride sharing, taxis or buses. The hospitality industry is preparing to meet the demand, but mandatory closing time on the nights of the DNC is 2:00 a.m. Activities will just be ramping up at that point in time. Extending legal bar time to 4:00 a.m. on these nights only makes sense to meet customer demand, serve adult beverages safely and maximize visitor spending. Precedent has already been set in previous DNC and Republican National Convention cities, where municipalities temporarily moved bar time to 4:00 a.m.

    This is a win-win for small businesses in Wisconsin. It is an opportunity to maximize visitor spending and help restaurants, bars and hotels meet customer demand. We are competing with these same businesses in Chicago and Northern Illinois, some areas of which already enjoy a later bar time. Let us keep the playing field level and keep these tourism dollars in Wisconsin.
  • Clarification in statute that vendors at Wisconsin State Fair Park can sell alcohol

    The Wisconsin Department of Revenue has determined there is no provision in state statute that allows for vendors to sell alcohol at Wisconsin State Fair Park. While this has been considered a lawful practice by the Department, there is a need to clarify the practice in state statute moving forward. This bill has language included to allow the Department to work with the State Fair Park Board each year to approve vendors and issue alcohol sales permits
  • Allowance for Road America to obtain a state alcohol permit

    This bill will allow the Road America race track to obtain a state permit to sell adult beverages on its property. Road America’s property is located in more than one municipality, preventing it from obtaining a local alcohol license. This bill allows the Department of Revenue to issue a state permit, rather than a local license. All other state laws relating to the sale of alcohol apply, whether it is a state permit or a local license.
  • Clarification of closing time for brewery tap rooms as the same as for restaurants and bars

    Wisconsin has complicated alcohol laws and sometimes certain laws are missed when exceptions and changes to state statutes are made. Some breweries in the state, depending on what type of brewery permit they have and when they got their permit, do not have closing hours set in state statute. This bill states that breweries are allowed to make retail sales in the same manner as bars and restaurants, including the same closing time of 2:00/2:30 a.m.

AB 840/SB 758

NEW ISSUE! Electronic Tip Declaration:
We need you to also ask your legislators to support AB 840/SB 758 and stop frivolous lawsuits around antiquated state rules. This bill clarifies state statute by putting in language that matches current Department of Workforce Development tip declaration policy

Here is why this bill is important to pass this session:

This bill addresses a problem WRA first learned about in late December. Restaurants located in the southeast part of Wisconsin are being targeted in lawsuits relating to how tipped employees declare (report) their tips. The crux of the lawsuits relate to the Department of Workforce Development’s administrative rule, which dictates how those tips are documented by the employer.

We believe SB 758 needs to pass this session to prevent thousands of small businesses from frivolous lawsuits.

Employment lawyers are taking advantage of an out of date administrative rule to bring nuisance lawsuits against employers who use the tip credit (aka tipped wage). Current Wisconsin Administrative rule regarding employee tip declarations and what the Department of Workforce Development considers being lawful practice, is out of sync.

The rule is antiquated and requires a written notice signed by the employee each pay period. The Department acknowledges the rule is out of date and it issued an interpretation that allows for the use of electronic point of sale (POS) systems to collect tip information from employees. A vast majority of restaurants use POS systems for employees to clock in and out of shifts, in addition to entering their tip information. These systems sync with payroll systems that generate employee paychecks which show the appropriate taxes are being withheld. The use of POS systems to collect and confirm payroll information also satisfies federal reporting/declaration requirement laws, so DWD’s interpretation conforms with federal law. The restaurant industry has been using POS systems for over 20 years and the Department has considered this practice lawful for over a decade.

There are individuals who have advocated against this bill, stating that it takes away employee protections. This is not true. This bill puts into statute what is already considered lawful practice at the state and federal level. Electronic tip reporting protects an employee from fraud, since altering credit card transactions in order to defraud an employee is very hard to do with modern systems. In fact, when the federal IRS or Department of Labor does an employer audit, the first place they begin looking for fraud is via the POS system. The same with DWD and the state Department of Revenue.

Legislator Contacts

Email to Legislator (Copy/paste the text below)

Dear Representative/Senator ___________________

I urge you to vote in favor of both AB 869 Alcohol Permits and AB 840/SB 758 Tip Counting. Both bill are very important to the restaurant industry and need to pass this session.

AB 869 contains time sensitive alcohol law measures that are important to the restaurant/hospitality/tourism businesses in Wisconsin

I support all of the measures contained in AB 869:

  • Extension of bar time during the Democratic National Convention to 4:00 a.m. statewide. This is an important tourism measure that will impact more than just the counties surrounding Milwaukee, it is an important tourism/economic development opportunity to showcase the hospitality businesses in our state
  • Clarification in statute that vendors at Wisconsin State Fair Park can sell alcohol
  • Allow area for Road America race track to secure its alcohol permits from the state Department of Revenue
  • Clarification of closing time for brewery tap rooms as the same as for restaurants and bars>

I also strongly encourage you to support AB 840/SB 758 and stop frivolous lawsuits caused by an antiquated state rule. One restaurant has already spent $10,000 defending themselves in one of these lawsuits. What is worse, they are being sued for what is lawful employment practice.

This bill clarifies state statute by putting in language that matches current Department of Workforce Development tip declaration policy. While the current Administrative Rule states that an employee must sign a document each pay period declaring their tips, DWD has followed Federal rule and has deemed the use of electronic point of sales systems to collect the same information from employees as being lawful and compliant. To be honest, it is more accurate and safer for the employee to submit data electronically vs. a signed piece of paper. Electronic systems have checks and balances in place to flag mistakes or fraud. Paper documents do not have these measures.

This bill only puts into statute what is already considered compliant and lawful practice.

Thank you for your time,