Issues & Advocacy
At its core, advocacy seeks to help people have their voices heard on issues that are important to them.
The Wisconsin Restaurant Association advocates for food, beverage and hospitality establishments and the people that are part of this great industry. We work at the State Capitol on behalf of all restaurants in Wisconsin to advance laws and regulations for the industry, ensure food safety protections and promote legislation that improves operations.
WRA’s goal is to create a better environment for restaurants to concentrate on what they do best and provide an engaging place for employees and guests to thrive. WRA has your back.
WRA is the one trade association in Wisconsin that identifies threats to restaurants and taverns and lobbies to address industry problems of all kinds, not just legislation on alcohol, taxes or local issues.
Elected Officials Need to Hear From You About Workforce Challenges
We are working hard to increase the number or worker and student visas available, to allow young people from other countries to travel here, earn money and learn our culture. We are advocating for immigration reform to improve our vetting system to allow people who wish to work in the US the ability to apply, be vetted and find gainful employment in jobs that US citizens do not want.
We are urging the Wisconsin legislature to rescind the Emergency Rule that waives work searches for those who are on unemployment insurance and the automatic “no work available” clause that allows employees to turn down work and remain on unemployment insurance.
The WRA has joined many other leading business groups and are urging the Governor to end Wisconsin’s participation in the enhanced federal unemployment benefits. Other factors, such as lack of child care facilities and virtual learning, are keeping employees at home. Longer term solutions to help get part time workers back into the workforce are also being explored, but will take more time.
In the meantime, we encourage you to contact your elected officials and tell them your stories – let them know what your worker situation is and that you need them to work with the WRA and other business groups to help get people back into the work force.
WRA is working to deliver these messages and help make comprehensive immigration reform possible. WRA recognizes importance of immigrants to the food, beverage and service industry and is lobbying for a better system.
Personal Property Tax
Reduce & Repeal PPT
WRA has lobbied for reduction or elimination of personal property tax (PPT) for restaurants for many years.
In 2018, WRA was part of the successful efforts to reduce PPT by $75 million in the state budget. However, PPT is still unfair and confusing—WRA continues to push for full repeal of the tax.
Level the Playing Field
WRA believes that laws relating to employment should be enacted at the state level, not at the local level.
When different municipalities enact their own employment requirements, it creates an un-level playing field for businesses in those municipalities.
A potential disadvantage is then realized, compared to those operating in a neighboring community. Restaurant businesses who operate in more than one municipality can also face difficulty complying with laws that are different depending on the municipality.
WRA's vigilance on key issues in the past few years has already saved your business plenty of money. Imagine how changes to any one of these laws would cost your business and employees:
Combined with the participation and support of our members, WRA has accomplished the following:
PPP Expense Deductibility – Act 1
WRA successfully pushed for Wisconsin tax law to mirror the federal government and allow for expenses paid for with COVID Paycheck Protection Program loan proceeds to also be deductible on state income tax returns.
Unemployment Insurance Benefit Charging – Act 4
WRA ensured that Unemployment Insurance Benefit Charging relief was extended to March 13, 2021 and that employers would receive the relief automatically, without having to fill out onerous paperwork.
Business COVID Liability Protection – Act 4
WRA worked hard to make sure Wisconsin businesses cannot be sued by customers and employees who claim they caught COVID-19 in their businesses
Cocktails-to-Go – Act 21
Soon after the Pandemic began, WRA advocated the legislature and the Governor to allow restaurants and bars to sell Cocktails-to-Go. Legislation was passed and signed in early 2021, making sealed Cocktails-to-Go permanently legal in Wisconsin
Electronic Tip Declaration – Act 26
Trial lawyers were taking advantage of an outdated Wisconsin employment rule and were recruiting tipped restaurant employees to bring lawsuits against their employers, if the employee reported tips via electronic point of sale systems. Restaurants were spending tens of thousands of dollars defending what is considered a legal practice by state and federal agencies. WRA pushed to pass a law allowing for use of POS systems to record employee tips, saving employers costly legal fees
Restaurant employee vaccine priority
WRA worked hard to get restaurant employees added to the COVID 19 vaccine priority list that included other essential food workers. The Department of Health Services added restaurant employees on March 15, 2021
The 2019-2020 Legislative Session was cut short by the COVID Pandemic, when the Wisconsin Legislature recessed early and did not return until January 2021. WRA was successful in stopping an effort to repeal the September 1 Uniform K-12 School Start date. WRA also secured an increase in funding for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s marketing budget. Prior to the Pandemic, WRA was close to securing a temporary change in bar closing time during the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. Those efforts ended when the in-person Convention was cancelled. WRA was successful in securing Unemployment Benefit charging relief was included in the Act 185, a bill addressing the COVID Pandemic and the legislature’s last piece of legislation of the session. This ensured that employers’ Unemployment Insurance funds would not be depleted because they were forced to lay-off or furlough employees due to the COVID Pandemic.
The WRA also worked with the Department of Revenue and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to make We’re All In grants available to restaurants adversely affected by the Pandemic. Over $670 million was distributed to the Wisconsin restaurant and hospitality industry.
Passed Employment Law Standardization Act
WRA pushed to pass this law that pre-empts municipalities from enacting local employment laws such as “fair Scheduling” or mandating specific employment benefits – this ensures that employment laws are set at the state level allowing businesses to develop scheduling and benefit packages that work best for their employees.
Repeal of Personal Property Tax
WRA succeeded in partially repealing the onerous personal property tax on restaurant equipment that unfairly singled out restaurants – this will mean reduced taxes for some restaurant businesses.
2016: There is a wave of major cities around the nation banning plastic bags, polystyrene, coated papers and other specific types of containers used by restaurants. WRA and other business-sector groups banded together and pass a law preventing local governments from banning or taxing containers, bags, bottles or cans used by retail businesses.
2015: A secret budget provision would have eliminated the liquor licenses of hundreds of restaurant operators around the state, putting many of them out of business without compensation. WRA uncovered this secret maneuver and convinced Governor Walker to veto the provision from the budget bill.
2013: New York City bans soft drinks larger than 16 ounces. The City of Madison discusses similar legislation. WRA gets a state law passed preventing local governments from regulating serving sizes, nutritional values, nutritional labeling or types of foods that may be served in restaurants.
2011: WRA helps to pass a state ban on local regulation of sick leave benefits and Family and Medical Leave, killing the Milwaukee sick leave mandate.
2010: City of Superior debates a plan to ban toys and other prizes in kids’ meals offered by restaurants. WRA staff and members serve up the facts to Council members, and defeat the proposal.
2009: Bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader to create automatic, annual minimum wage hikes and allow local minimum wage ordinances. WRA rallied members and got the measure pulled from the state budget, then defeated the bill in the Assembly Labor Committee.
2008: Milwaukee voters approve a ballot initiative requiring a paid sick leave benefit for all employees. WRA joins a business-sector lawsuit against the City of Milwaukee and delays implementation of the sick leave ordinance until 2011.
2006: WRA championed a state law banning obesity-related lawsuits against restaurants.
2005 & 2006: An executive order raises Wisconsin’s minimum wage, but WRA blocks a commensurate increase in the server wage. In fact, there has not been a significant increase in the server wage since 1981. WRA knows that wage increases are needed more in the back of the house. Forcing higher wages in the front of the house is counterproductive.
2005: WRA gets a new state law passed that nullifies Madison’s minimum wage and prevents all local governments from setting their own minimum wages.
2001: State of Wisconsin claims that all unredeemed gift certificates and gift cards are “unclaimed property” and tells retail businesses to turn over the proceeds of unused gift obligations to the state treasurer. WRA pushed through legislation clarifying that unused gift cards are not “unclaimed property.”
Get Involved: Campaign Support
WRA-Political Action Committee
WRA’s Political Action Committee (WRA-PAC) helps elect state and local candidates that aim to benefit our industry. WRA-PAC combines contributions from individuals to distribute funds to candidates for greater effect (business donations are allocated to Wisconsin RAF).
Contributions must be personal contributions, not from a business.
The WRA Conduit program helps you distribute your personal funds to any candidate for local or state office, at any time. As an individual, you have full control over your political contributions -or- contributions may also be pooled for larger impact.
The Wisconsin Restaurant Association Advocacy Fund (RAF) educates members and the public on legislative issues that impact Wisconsin restaurants. Through RAF, members receive the Capitol Report newsletter and are updated on important legislative issues. Get involved with our community of passionate restaurant industry advocates.
The RAF helps to:
When the Wisconsin Legislature is in session, WRA lobbies to shape public policy. But when campaign season comes around, WRA works to shape the legislature by supporting candidates we can expect to support our key issues during their term. WRA’s candidate endorsement process gives all candidates the opportunity to inform us where they stand on key issues that impact our industry and the state’s economy as a whole. WRA meets with, interviews and educates candidates on issues that may be coming up in the Capitol in the near future. Help pick candidates worthy of WRA’s support or share information with WRA about candidates that support our industry and small business.
WRA works to shape the legislature by supporting candidates we can expect to support key issues that impact the restaurant industry and the state’s economy as a whole. All candidates have the opportunity to inform WRA about their stance on key issues WRA interviews in person and via questionnaires and educates candidates about potential issues that impact the restaurant industry and small businesses in Wisconsin.
There are many ways to help with WRA’s advocacy efforts. Whether it’s testifying at hearings, talking with legislators at Restaurant Advocacy Day at the capitol or contacting legislators on important issues, grassroots involvement from restaurant operators is an absolute necessity for lobbying success. On a federal level, Wisconsin restaurant industry professionals have the opportunity to attend the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference in Washington DC every year to lobby on important federal issues that affect the restaurant industry and small businesses. Contributions to the WRA Political Action Committee and Restaurant Advocacy Fund are also essential in supporting WRA’s lobbying efforts on behalf of the restaurant industry.