Tuesday, August 25, 2009

WTFisconsin: No Drinking in Bars

I am all for reforms.

In fact, I came across a wonderful blog post this afternoon from James Rowen perfectly outlining how ridiculous it is for folks from both sides of the aisle to shut themselves off to new proposals.

I am also all for reforms that will address the drunk driving crisis in the State of Wisconsin. We should not have people like this guy in Manitowoc still on the road after 12 DUIs. I recognize the significance of the issues raised in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's recent series "Wasted in Wisconsin."

However, there is a new idea on the table that I just can't get behind.

Bartenders would have to maintain absolute sobriety under a proposal debated by a state Assembly panel Tuesday.

Being under the influence of alcohol or partying with customers is problematic for servers, bill author Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) told the Assembly’s Committee on Urban and Local Affairs Tuesday. The committee also heard testimony on another proposal from Zepnick that would ban “all you can drink” specials.

Both are aimed at reducing the rate of drunken driving in Wisconsin.

Honestly, I think this makes us liberals who fought so hard for the statewide smoking ban look like temperance flag waving fun-killers. While the smoking ban benefits everyone's health, ushers Wisconsin toward the 21st century, and long-term will be better for tavern business, a ban on drinking employees and on drink specials dents a significant part of Wisconsin culture.

In regards to bartenders drinking on the job--that should completely be the choice of the employer. I know of plenty of bars/restaurants that don't allow their employees to drink on the job. I also know of advertising agencies that encourage drinking. Then consider our brewery and growing distillery industry. Why just apply this law to bartenders? Are the brewers not going to be able to test their wares?

I want my bartender to be able to recommend beers, wines and cocktails to me. If they are unable to try those while on the clock, there will be years of institutional knowledge killed in the state. I also want to continue to buy my bartender a drink if I've gotten exceptional service or they've listened to a sob story.

Wisconsin's cocktail culture is part of what makes the state unique. It's part of why I, a transplanted young professional, stay here. Obviously I don't want these employees driving home after a shift of drinking. But most employees are not drinking their entire shift. Why punish everyone and kill a culture because of a few stupid individuals? I guarantee if a person is an alcoholic, they're going to find a way to drink even when they're not on the clock.

In regards to banning certain drink specials, again, I don't think this is going to address the greater issue of drunk driving. And why a ban? Why not charge a fee to bars who want to offer these specials and partner with a cab company for a "safe ride home" program?

Or, here's another novel idea, why don't we invest more in public transportation infrastructure to give Milwaukeeans another option to get home from the bar?

Perhaps what aggravates me the most is that an extreme proposal like this is going to make the talk radio guys foam at the mouth. At a time when it has never been more critical to have bipartisan cooperation on critical issues like the economy, health care and transportation infrastructure, I am embarrassed as a Democrat to throw a big Prohibition PiƱata over to the Republicans.

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