Wausau City Council to try to Nix Sober Bartender Veto

By: WSAW Staff/ Associated Press Email
By: WSAW Staff/ Associated Press Email

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) -- The Wausau City Council is going to try to override a mayoral veto nixing an ordinance requiring bartenders to limit on-the-job drinking.

Wausau Daily Herald Media reported Monday the ordinance required tavern employees to maintain blood-alcohol levels of 0.04 percent, or half the legal limit to drive. The council adopted it on an 8-2 vote on Jan. 15. But Mayor Jim Tipple vetoed the provision less than 24 hours later, saying he wanted to give tavern owners and bartenders more time to give their input and the city shouldn't regulate private businesses so tightly.

An override requires a two-thirds council. Tipple has used his veto power just three other times during his 10 years in office.

ORIGINAL STORY: Wed 7:08 AM, Jan. 15, 2014

The City Council of Wausau passed an ordinance limiting how much alcohol servers, bartenders and bar owners can consume while working. The blood alcohol content limit for them now sits at .04.

If officers respond to bars and suspect a bartender, server or bar owner is intoxicated, they now have the right to give the person in question a breathalyzer test. The person can turn down the request. If they do take one and blow over .04, the person could lose their serving license and face fines.

The decision came after a handful of heated comments from bar and tavern owners.

"The city needs businesses and we also need the people to work in the business," says Timothy Thomas, the president of the Marathon County Bar and Tavern League. "We can't make it any harder but we can help people."

Supporters for the ordinance also spoke out, hoping the council would vote to approve the ordinance.

"When I look at the bartenders and if they're under the influence of alcohol, this [the brain] is what is going to be impaired and this is what is causing problems in our community," says Sue Nowak who is a drug prevention specialist with the Marathon County AOD Partnership.

Sherry Abitz, who represents District 10, proposed tabling the bill for 30 days so a task force could be created among bar and tavern owners, allowing the council to hear more of their concerns. Mayor Jim Tipple supported that idea.

"I've been in this community 40 years. I have never heard of a problem that we're talking about tonight," says Tipple. "I think we need to vet it a little longer. I think a table makes sense; I question whether we can get it done in 30 days but let's do it right and let's not just ram something through and alienate businesses that are trying to make some money in this community."

When it came time to vote, the motion to table the ordinance failed. The council then voted on the original ordinance which passed 8-2 with representatives Abitz and Keene Winters, the representative for District 6, voting against it.

Many think this is a step in the right direction for the city.

"Ninety-five percent of licensed operators do not have anything to fear from this ordinance," says Lisa Rasmussen, the representative for the 7th District. "They're already behaving responsibly. They're already serving the way they should be and they're already either not consuming or they're consuming within bounds."

Bar owners do not agree though. They wish they had more say in what is effecting their businesses.

"It seems like it could just be kind of embarrassing and humiliating to just be standing at my job, doing my function, earning my business, keeping my people employed and then have to blow a breathalyzer just for the sake that is a new ordinance," says Tyler Vogt who is the co-owner of Malarkey's Pub. "It would have been nice to talk about it."

Community partners think the new ordinance will create new relationships between all parties involved.

"I think this is going to be a good opportunity to expand on our training opportunities through the AOD partnership and our local law enforcement and so on," says Melissa Dotter, the Drug Free Communities Coordinator for the Marathon County AOD Partnership.

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