The Democratic National Convention — where delegates of the Democratic Party choose their party’s nominees for president and vice president — will be held July 13-16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the Fiserv Forum (where the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks play). This will be the first time that a major political party convention has been held in Milwaukee, which was among eight cities originally vying for the event. The official announcement was made just about a year ago during a news conference held at Fiserv Forum. “Where you hold a convention is a statement of your values,” said Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez, who called Milwaukee a diverse and “proud union town.”
No taxpayer funds are used for the quadrennial Democratic and Republican political conventions, although the U.S. Secret Service oversees security and the federal government provides a $50 million stipend.
Up to 50,000 people are expected to attend the convention, including delegates, their families, tourists, and the media. Local organizers are saying that the convention could bring in up to $200 million in economic impact.
To sweeten the economic impact, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill (Assembly Bill 869) on February 20 regarding, among other things, “closing hours for certain alcohol beverage retailers.” The bill “creates an exception allowing southeast Wisconsin municipalities to authorize extended closing hours for certain alcohol beverage retailers during the time that the 2020 Democratic National Convention is held in Milwaukee.”
Assembly Bill 869, section 22, reads,
(c) 1. Notwithstanding s. 125.68 (4) (c) 1. and 3m., from July 13 to July 17, 2020, the closing hours for premises operating under a “Class B” or “Class C” license issued by a southeast Wisconsin municipality shall be between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. if the municipality that issued the license has adopted a resolution allowing extended closing hours within the municipality and has authorized this extended closing hour as provided in subd. 2.
Currently, the closing time for bars and restaurants in Wisconsin statewide is 2 a.m. on weekdays and 2:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
The bill is being pushed by the city of Milwaukee, the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, the Wisconsin Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, and other groups that want their members to benefit from the thousands of people attending the convention.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rob Swearingen, is a Republican, as are the majority in the legislature. Said Swearingen, “I’m a Republican, and obviously this is a DNC convention, but money is not red or blue; it’s green. And I want everybody that comes to the convention to leave with no money.”
Not everyone is in favor of allowing bars and restaurants to extend their closing times. “Any time that you increase accessibility to alcohol, it does not help create safer alcohol environments,” said Maureen Busalacchi, public affairs co-chair of the Wisconsin Public Health Association. “So this is like throwing gas on the fire.”
There is some precedent for relaxing liquor laws during political conventions.
In 2012, the Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte, North Carolina, beginning the day after Labor Day. But since the state-run liquor stores are required to close on Sundays and holidays, lawmakers allowed the stores in Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, to remain open on Labor Day so bars and restaurants could stock up before the convention.
In 2016, the Democratic National Convention was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lawmakers allowed bars and restaurants to apply for permits to stay open until 4:00 a.m. They also relaxed the requirement that all wine and liquor be purchased from state-run stores.
Also in 2016, Cleveland, Ohio, hosted the Republican National Convention. Lawmakers there likewise allowed bars and restaurants to apply for permits to stay open until 4:00 a.m.
So what could possibly be the problem if Wisconsin — like other states — allows bars and restaurants to expand their operating hours?
Nothing. The problem is that bars and restaurants must get permission from the government to do so.
Bars and restaurants — like nail salons, veterinary clinics, gas stations, department stores, barbershops, grocery stores, and amusement parks — are private businesses. The fact that bars and restaurants serve alcoholic beverages is irrelevant. Private businesses should be able to set their own operating hours — just as they set their own prices, credit policies, stock levels, floor plans, staffing levels, return policies, and employee benefits.
Yet most states (and cities and counties that are allowed a local option) restrict alcohol sales in some way on Sundays. In some areas, the sale of alcohol is prohibited for consumption off-premises on Sunday. In other areas it is just hard liquor that cannot be sold for off-premise consumption on Sunday. In many areas, no alcoholic beverages of any kind can be sold before a certain time on Sunday.
But it’s not just alcohol sales that are restricted on Sunday in this, “the land of the free.” In some states and counties in America it is still illegal on Sunday to hunt, hold horse races, sell cars, or open a store before noon — or at all.
According to the General Laws of Massachusetts, Part I, Title XX, Chapter 136, Section 5,
Whoever on Sunday keeps open his shop, warehouse, factory or other place of business, or sells foodstuffs, goods, wares, merchandise or real estate, or does any manner of labor, business or work, except works of necessity and charity, shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one hundred dollars for a first offense, and a fine of not less than fifty dollars nor more than two hundred dollars for each subsequent offense, and each unlawful act or sale shall constitute a separate offense.
There are, however, fifty-five exemptions “from blue law restrictions for certain retail and non-retail businesses.”
And it is not just Sunday that the operating hours of businesses are curtailed. In Massachusetts, certain holidays are “restricted.” On Columbus Day before 12 p.m., Veterans Day before 1 p.m., Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day, “work may be performed only with a local police permit.”
In a free society, businesses decide what days of the week they will be open.
In a free society, businesses decide what hours of the day and night they will be open.
In a free society, businesses decide whether they will be open on holidays.
In a free society, businesses decide what times they will serve alcohol.
In a free society, businesses decide what is closing time.