Are Wisconsin's DUI Laws too Tipsy towards the Beer Companies?
By: Chris Kramer
Home of the Miller brewery and a Major League Baseball team that is called the Brewers and plays its home games at where else but Miller Park, Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin certainly loves its beer.
For some people, this love for all things beer is too apparent in some Wisconsin DUI laws. For example, did you know that Wisconsin is the only state in the country that treats a first-time DUI like a traffic ticket with no possibility of jail time?
State Representative Terese Berceau is certainly aware of this as she made this point in an Associated Press story in which she expressed her frustration with the lobbying power of the beer industry.
While Wisconsin DUI penalties for serious DUI offenses are in-line with many other states, Berceau noted how Wisconsin is the only state in which parents can purchase alcohol for their children to drink in their presence. The state does prohibit a person under the age of 21 from entering a bar without a parent.
However, people under the legal drinking age are allowed to visit Wisconsin bowling alleys and volleyball centers that serve alcohol. Under two proposed Wisconsin beer laws in the state, people under the age of 21 would also be able to attend the Wisconsin Renaissance Faire and batting cages in establishments that serve alcohol.
While Berceau saw her own bill that would have increased the tax on beer in the state for only the third time since the end of Prohibition and the first time since 1969 get solidly rejected, Governor Jim Doyle has signed some rather interesting Wisconsin beer bills into law.
When the clocks moved forward an hour during daylight savings time last March, Doyle signed a Wisconsin beer bill that allowed taverns to continue serving alcohol for an hour after closing time on that night. Doyle also signed into Wisconsin beer law a bill allowing grocery and liquor stores to promote a particular brand of beer and even give out free samples. This Wisconsin beer bill had unanimous support from the state legislature.
Berceau conveyed in the story her feelings that state legislators are too scared of the powerful influence of the beer industry and the Tavern League of Wisconsin, which represents the13,000 bars in the state.
Jerry Apps, a historian who wrote a book on Wisconsin breweries, said in the story that legislators have always been smitten to beer-related issues. Citing the rich tradition of breweries in the state, Apps said politicians treat these issues with "kid gloves." Apps went as far to call beer an "icon" in Wisconsin and indicated that politicians are smart enough to know that they won't last long going after something that the people love.
Beer's iconic status is certainly true in Milwaukee, which is commonly referred to as the Brew City and was voted "America's Drunkest City" last year by Forbes.com. A year before that, the Harvard School of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detailed a study indicating that Wisconsin had the highest binge-drinking rate among adults and the second highest among college students.
With the above considered, have Wisconsin legislators let the special interests of beer impair their thinking, especially when it comes to important issues like underage drinking and binge drinking? According to Berceau and Linsday Desormier of the Wisconsin chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the answer is "yes." To beer lovers and many other legislators, the answer is a definitive "no."
Guess your answer would depend on whether you prefer O'Doul's or Miller Lite!