STATE OF THE STATE (copy)

Gov. Scott Walker

MICHELLE STOCKER, CAPITAL TIMES

Gov. Scott Walker offered a tepid response when asked Wednesday about Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's proposal to toughen enforcement of Wisconsin's alcohol laws by creating an "alcohol czar."

"He's throwing the idea out. I don't know how far it's going to go," Walker said of the Juneau Republican's fast-moving proposal. 

The legislation, introduced Tuesday, is scheduled for a public hearing on Thursday as the Legislature speeds toward the end of its session. 

Fitzgerald's proposal would create an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement within the state Department of Revenue to crack down on the state's laws governing the manufacturing, distribution and sale of alcohol. The office would be headed by an appointee of the governor and staffed by six enforcement agents to write new administrative rules.

Fitzgerald has said there are concerns that the state's existing laws are not being properly enforced. 

The bill is similar to a proposal floated last year during the state budget process.

MillerCoors, the largest beer brewer by volume in Wisconsin, opposes the proposal.

"The Department of Revenue has been effectively and efficiently regulating alcohol in this state since prohibition and this change is unnecessary," the company said in a statement.

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The bill would also create a new permit that would allow Kohler Co.'s American Club to sell a chocolate brandy it started distilling in 2016 but has been limited by state law in its ability to sell.

The proposal would create a “resort manufacturer permit” allowing a business that meets certain conditions to manufacture, bottle, store and sell up to 150,000 gallons of intoxicating liquor per year on the entity’s premises.

It would also allow the “resort manufacturer” to sell beer or intoxicating liquor that it does not produce on its premises without a retail license and sell its spirits to a related business, deemed a "secondary resort facility."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was noncommittal when asked about the bill on Tuesday, noting that some lawmakers and industry members were "skeptical" of the proposal last year. 

It "could be a big lift," Vos said, repeating Fitzgerald's reaction to an Assembly juvenile corrections proposal

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.