'This whole thing is insane': Tavern League, bar owners react to judge striking down state's 25% capacity limit

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WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Several bars and restaurants in the Milwaukee area are celebrating the news that a judge temporarily blocked an emergency order from Gov. Tony Evers' administration that places limits on the number of people allowed inside bars and restaurants.

The move comes after a lawsuit was filed Tuesday, Oct. 13 in Sawyer County by a resort in the village of Winter, the Sawyer County Tavern League and the Tavern League of Wisconsin, or TLW.

The state's emergency order limits capacity to 25 percent of a room or an establishment's total occupancy.

In a statement, TLW President Chris Marsicano called the emergency order "invalid." He said restaurants, taverns, bars and supper clubs did not cause the pandemic but are now facing bankruptcies, closures and economic ruin.

"Secretary-designee Palm’s order unfairly targets the hard-working men and women in the hospitality industry and is in clear violation of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Palm decision issued just five month ago," Marsicano said in the statement.

TLW said the judge's ruling does not impact any local orders in effect. The league is asking members to continue to follow guidelines from
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Robert Boehnen, the owner of Wonderland Tap and president of the Waukesha County Tavern League, said he was hoping the judge would strike down the ruling.

"It's about time. I've been waiting for it a long time. I was hoping the Tavern League would have stepped up sooner and done it," Boehnen said.

He said many establishments have already closed for good, and he feels sorry for anyone who has recently opened a bar.

"This whole thing is insane," he said "The casinos are open. The schools are open. Everything is open, going full capacity. Yet the bars -- We probably serve 20 percent of the population, but for some reason, we're responsible for 100 percent of the corona spread."

In Milwaukee, city officials announced last week that they would not be enforcing the state's emergency order for establishments with approved safety plans. Bars and restaurants with approved safety plans, like Steny's, have been able to continue operating without capacity limits.

"We're going to keep ours at 75 (percent) just so people can feel comfortable and we can maintain the social distancing," said Natalie Duvall, bar manager at Steny's in Milwaukee.

Duvall said the first day Evers' order was announced, Steny's employees were "devastated" because of all the work they put in to make the tavern safe.

"It's frustrating watching the bar owner: the money we've put in, the time we've put in to correct this. Business is not as it used to be. It's going to take a while before we get back there, so I'm glad someone stood up to our governor and told him that this isn't going to work," Duvall said.

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