Rock County officials told to be strict on alcohol licenses
JANESVILLE—Municipal leaders must protect the public by being diligent in their research and firm in their policies when reviewing applications for alcohol licenses, a UW Law School expert told local officials Tuesday.
Alcohol licenses are handled at the local level in Wisconsin, and each municipality has its own set of ordinances and licensing protocol, said Julia Sherman from the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project.
Her presentation, “Creating a Positive Alcohol Environment: Alcohol Policy,” hosted by the Rock County Prevention Network, gave municipal leaders in Rock County resources to improve their alcohol environments.
A positive alcohol environment is one where people of legal age can access a moderate amount of alcohol safely, Sherman said.
Municipalities can improve their alcohol policies by making alcohol less available, less attractive and less affordable and making misuse less acceptable, according to the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project's website.
The group's members come from the University of Wisconsin Law School. They provide training, tools and assistance to municipalities, law enforcement and other entities to help them improve their alcohol environments.
This is the first time in three years that a presentation like this was given in Rock County, said Jane Golberg, project coordinator for Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change.
Golberg believes now is a good time to teach new council members and other officials about the power they have in alcohol regulation.
More people die from alcohol-related accidents in Wisconsin than from alcohol-related diseases, Sherman said.
She believes municipalities can prevent accidents by giving proper attention to license applications and policies.
The state template for alcohol license applications offers the bare minimum that municipalities should require of applicants, Sherman said. Communities have the power to ask for as much information and add as many conditions as they choose, as long as they comply with state law.
Sherman recommends that municipalities ask applicants to provide completed floor plans and business plans with their applications.
Other factors they should consider: proximity to other businesses with alcohol, how alcohol is displayed and where, hours of operation and staffing for ID checks.
She also advised licensing committees to reach out to residents and address their concerns before approving alcohol licenses.
JANESVILLE'S ALCOHOL ENVIRONMENT
Councilman Paul Williams has served on the Janesville Alcohol License Advisory Committee for 10 years. He said he knows businesses that serve alcohol entail risk and raise concerns in the community.
But he believes the committee has a good working relationship with license holders.
The committee is considering two applications for a Class B nonreserved alcohol license, and it has heard concerns about the new bar proposed for the former Black Bridge Bowl and a tavern proposed near the Fairview Mall.
It is important to hear from neighbors before approving a license, Williams said, because the committee has to have the city's well-being in mind.
“If you come in and sell alcohol and you're not playing by the rules, not only can that have bad effects on the community and neighborhood, it could lead to death or injury,” Williams said. “Plus it takes a lot of taxpayer money and resources.”
After attending Sherman's presentation, Williams said he has a few ideas he wants to review and possibly implement, including updating some guidelines based on Oregon's alcohol policies.
For now, he said he does not have major concerns about Janesville's alcohol environment.