By Shereen Siewert

Wausau officials this week sent a letter to state lawmakers officially opposing proposed legislation to allow restaurants and taverns to sell single-serve cocktails in sealed packaging.

The bill is being lauded by restaurant and tavern owners struggling with a downturn in business. But city officials in Wausau have several key concerns.

During a January meeting, Wausau Public Health and Safety Committee Chair Lisa Rasmussen said the measure undermines local control of alcohol licensing, which has been the responsibility of municipalities for decades.

That committee last month voted to oppose the bill, citing concerns over state legislation that “encourages and increases the potential opportunities alcohol consumption by operators of motor vehicles or by underage individuals.” The full council voted on the matter Tuesday, but stopped short of opposing a bill that enables home delivery.

“We’re concerned about mixing and transporting alcohol,” Rasmussen said this week.

State legislators are considering a measure that would apply to taverns and restaurants with a license to sell wine and spirits on site, allowing them to sell mixed drinks in sealed containers. Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, and Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, are sponsors of the bill. So far, 33 states have allowed to-go alcohol sales in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supporters say the move is necessary to help struggling business owners at a crucial time. According to a November survey from the National Restaurant Association, nearly half of Wisconsin restaurant operators said they are considering closing temporarily, while dozens have shut their doors permanently in the wake of COVID-19. The Wisconsin Restaurant Association, one of the largest trade associations in the state with more than 7,000 member locations, supports the bill. The Tavern League of Wisconsin also supports the bill.

The city opposes “legislation that diminishes local control” and “increases the potential opportunities for alcohol consumption by operators of motor vehicles or underage individuals,” according to the language in the letter, which is embedded below.

As of December, 2020 more than 17 percent of restaurants in the United States have permanently closed and the unemployment rate in the hospitality industry has reached 40 percent, Collin Driscoll, policy advisor for Sen. Felzkowski, said.

Most local restaurant owners say they’ve suffered a significant downturn in their revenue, putting jobs at risk. The bill aims to give those business owners added revenue at a time they are desperately in need.

“This important change will greatly benefit small independent restaurant, tavern and supper club owners and provide them another tool to survive and make it until the summer,” the note seeking co-sponsors said.