About those liquor licenses…


Liquor licenses often seem to be the weapon of choice for lawmakers trying to curry favor from constituents or special interest groups. Hence, it was not surprising to see that Assembly Democrats snuck a provision into the recently passed state budget that granted the Oneida Indian Tribe a special right to bypass municipal approval for its liquor licenses. OK, technically it wasn’t for Oneida, it was for Indian reservations of more than 60,000 acres and less than 70,000 acres. The Oneida tribe is the only one that satisfies that requirement.

Of course, when it comes to liquor policy, favoritism can get much more specific than an Indian tribe. Here’s a little diddy slipped in by Rep. Gary Sherman (D-Port Wing), which would amend state law to allow the following to be exempt from typical municipal liquor license quotas:

“Any full-service restaurant with a seating capacity of 75 to 100 persons and that is located on a golf course.”

Assembly Dems justified the Oneida provision because the town of Hobart, which would usually be responsible for the liquor licensing, is engaged in some relatively fierce litigation with the tribe over unpaid taxes. Liquor licenses are absolutely essential to the business of the reservation – people are considerably less likely to go for a round of golf or a game of craps without a generous supply of booze around. However, if it was just one license that was concerned – the golf course – then it seems as if the action by the Assembly Dems may have been unnecessary.

However, what seems to be completely left out of the discussion is the sovereignty of the Oneida tribe. Under U.S. law, Indian tribes generally have very little relation to state governments – they negotiate directly with the feds. Hence, it is puzzling to me that Oneida would have to answer to Hobart or the state of Wisconsin on liquor regulation.

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