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Late bar hours for Democratic National Convention in doubt

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Legislation to extend bar hours in Wisconsin until 4 a.m. for the week of the Democratic National Convention appears unlikely to move forward, after a Republican leader said on Wednesday that concerns about drunken drivers on the road have dampened enthusiasm.

A bill allowing for longer bar hours during the four nights of the convention passed an Assembly committee with bipartisan support last week. The full Assembly is scheduled to adopt it on Thursday, its last session day of the year. That would move attention to the Senate, which was not scheduled to vote on it Wednesday and is meeting just one more time in March for the year.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he’s hearing concerns from lawmakers and others about the consequences of later bar hours.

“It’s lost a little bit of steam from where it was initially,” Fitzgerald told reporters Wednesday.

Fitzgerald said he was concerned about the possibility of someone driving drunk during and getting into a wreck. He’s also concerned that strip clubs could also be able to stay open until 4 a.m. There were also questions about why bar hours would be extended for the Democratic convention and not other events, he said.

“It doesn’t have nearly the momentum it had a month ago,” he said.

Senate Democrats tried to force a vote on extending bar hours Wednesday, but Republicans didn’t allow it. Democrats argued there was nothing wrong with allowing bars to be open later to accommodate people who may not be able to return until late to hotels far from the downtown Milwaukee convention site.

“You want to know that the bar is going to be open when you get there,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who represents a district outside of Madison. “And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

Sen. Tim Carpenter, a Democrat from Milwaukee, said Republican-owned bars and restaurants would benefit.

“This isn’t red money, this isn’t blue money, this is green money,” Carpenter said. Not doing it would make Wisconsin “look very petty, very small,” he said.

Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard, a retired police officer, said he can’t support the proposal because of the increased risk of drunken drivers on the road.

The plan to extend the hours had support from groups representing the state’s bars, restaurants and tourism industries, which are preparing for an influx of 50,000 visits for the July 13-16 convention. In 2016, Ohio and Pennsylvania also allowed for later bar hours when the national conventions went to their states.

Gov. Tony Evers supports the bill and will sign it, his spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said last week.

The proposal originally would have allowed only bars in and around Milwaukee, where the convention is being held, to stay open later, but it was modified to apply to venues statewide. Local governments would have to sign off on the later hours.

Bars now must close at 2 a.m. on weekdays and 2:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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