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'We would have to shut down': Farmers relieved Evers won't force wedding barns to get liquor licenses

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58/AP) --- Gov. Tony Evers' administration won't force wedding barns to obtain liquor licenses, his spokeswoman said Friday in a move that could defuse a lawsuit seeking to force state regulators to leave barn operators alone.

It's something barn owners have been worried about for a few months. Orchard Valley Acres Farm Owners Felicia Rottinghaus and Trevor Alsberg said a liquor license could cost them their livelihood.

"It would have meant the end of our barn, our farm," Rottinghaus said. "We would have to shut down."

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in emails Friday that the state Department of Revenue hasn't required wedding barns to get liquor licenses in the past and Evers doesn't want to change that stance.

Before leaving office, former Attorney General Brad Schimel said barns should be treated like public venues and force them to apply for a liquor license.

“They’re not required to have opening hours or closing ours," State Rep. Rob Swearingen told CBS 58 News in January. "They’re not required to have licensed bartenders. Alcohol needs to be regulated in the state of Wisconsin.”

But, farmers who host weddings disagree.

"There's no reason for venues like ours to have to have a liquor license. We're not in the business of operating a bar," Rottinghaus said.

Rottinghaus is a certified chef and caters for the weddings with produce grown in their farm, but she says she leaves the drinks up to professional alcohol catering businesses and guests use local hotels.

"It would take business away from so many other businesses in the community," Rottinghaus said.

The couple relies on the weddings to keep their farm up and running and says Evers stance on liquor licenses allows them to hold on to everything they've worked for.

"This was our opportunity to save the farm and do many of the things we love to do," Rottinghaus said.

CBS 58 News spoke to a Wisconsin farmer from Green Lake County in January. Jean Bahn sued Gov. Tony Evers and new Attorney General Josh Kaul, asking them to make a formal ruling allowing them to continue. She partnered with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), which says requiring a liquor license for rented venues allowing alcohol would bring problems beyond weddings.

The firm issued a statement Friday calling Evers' declaring that it's "heartened" that Evers won't require wedding barns to get licenses. The statement stopped short of saying the farmers would drop the lawsuit, though.

"We trust that this matter will promptly be resolves in a manner that provides wedding barn owners and couples with the certainty that they can continue with their business and plans for special events," the statement said.

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