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Compliance & Enforcement of State and Local Wisconsin Alcohol Laws

Wisconsin state law sets the framework for alcohol regulation in Chapter 125 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) law as well as the law against serving intoxicated people and the schemes for their enforcement are spelled out in Wisconsin statute sec. 125.07. Since alcohol use by underage people has detrimental impacts on health, brain development, and public safety, there are safeguards in place to reduce access to alcohol for young people. Enforcing the Minimum Drinking Age Laws is an effective tool to reduce underage access. Enforcement is also critical to ensure that service to intoxicated people is stopped. Continuous education of Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) of clerks, servers and bartenders can be helpful in reducing overservice of alcohol.

Underage Drinking

Reducing Excessive Alcohol Use

Limiting access to alcohol for underage people is essential to reducing excessive alcohol use. Learn more about Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project (WisAPP) underage drinking prevention resources and policy recommendations.

View underage drinking prevention resources

Social Host Law Summary

Wisconsin law prohibits adults from providing a location for underage drinking. Learn more about the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project’s (WisAPP) summary of the Social Host Law.

View the summary of the Social Host Law (PDF)

Alcohol Age Compliance Checks (AACC)

Also known as Minimum Legal Drinking Age Compliance Checks, these compliance checks are law enforcement operations where an underage young adult, aged 18‐20 works with a law enforcement agency by attempting to purchase alcohol using their own ID or without any ID.

What are compliance checks and why are they important?

Place of Last Drink (POLD)

Place of Last Drink refers to the last place that a person drank an alcohol beverage before being issued a citation by a law enforcement officer for an alcohol-related incident. Compiling POLD information is an effective, low-cost method to identify local licensees that demonstrate a pattern of over-serving alcohol to its customers. Identifying a pattern of over-serving enables a municipality to focus community and law enforcement resources on specific licensees without placing additional burden on compliant businesses.

Resources for Safer Service of Alcohol

Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training

What is Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training?

The Community Guide defines Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) training programs as programs that “give owners, managers, and staff of establishments that serve alcohol knowledge and skills to help them serve alcohol responsibly and fulfill the legal requirements of alcohol service.” When conducted frequently enough, RBS training may increase staff awareness of alcohol-related problems and provides specific skills to reduce excessive alcohol use. For example, a 2018 study in California showed that RBS laws decreased OWIs by 25% among underage drinkers. Also, a 2018 study in New Mexico showed that a web-based RBS training program for on-premises establishments produced an initial increase in the rate of servings refusing to serve apparently intoxicated pseudo-patrons, with a significant but smaller (17%) impact one year after the training. Most states either require or allow some form of RBS training.

What are Wisconsin’s requirements for RBS Training?

Wisconsin requires applicants for operator (“bartender”) licenses or alcohol retail licenses to enroll in an RBS training course. Learn more from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

A person must enroll in an RBS course prior to the date of application unless they meet one of several possible exceptions, such as having completed an RBS training course within 2 years, renewing an operator’s license, or having held a Wisconsin alcohol retail Class A, B, or C license or a Class B permit or a manager’s or operator’s license. A person who keeps their license active, renewing each time it is about to expire, does not need to take any refresher course.

To meet state requirements, the RBS training course must either be offered by a technical college district and conform to guidelines specified by the technical college system board or be a comparable course approved by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS). The course must also be approved by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR). It may be in person or online.

A municipality (city, village, or county) may not require that an applicant for an operator’s license take any additional training besides the state approved course; but may require the applicant to purchase at cost additional materials providing information about local concerns not covered by the state course.

Does Wisconsin require all employees who sell or serve alcohol to be RBS Trained?

No. Many businesses will only have one RBS trained person on premises for any shift, and some might not have any. A Wisconsin alcohol licensed or permitted premises may only be open for alcohol beverage retail sales or service if one of the following is “upon the premises”: the licensee or permittee, the agent named in the license or permit, or a licensed operator who is responsible for the acts of everyone in the business who is serving alcohol beverages to customers. However, the statute allows the supervising “licensed operator” to be “any member of the licensee’s or permittee’s immediate family who has attained the age of 18” regardless of whether that individual has ever been granted a license or permit. Therefore, it is possible that some open alcohol beverage businesses may not have any individual on the premises who has ever completed an RBS training course.

How may a municipality impose additional RBS requirements?

RBS training may be most useful when it is used in combination with monitoring, enforcement, publicity and management support. One way this can be done is in conjunction with alcohol age compliance checks (AACC) and place of last drink (POLD) monitoring. For example, prosecutors or judges can require RBS training instead of a financial penalty for a first citation for service to an underage person. If a business is in danger of losing its license because it or its employees gets two or more citations for service to underage persons or gets reported multiple times as the POLD in OWIs or other alcohol-related citations, a municipality can require additional RBS training of licensees, managers, and employees, as a condition of renewal of the alcohol beverage license. Also, a municipality may make RBS training a condition of managers’ licenses if it chooses to enact an ordinance for issuing managers’ licenses.

How can a prevention coalition get involved?

  • Read the 2021 Report of the SCAODA Ad Hoc Alcohol Prevention Workgroup for 61 recommendations to prevent and reduce excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Develop channels of communication and trust with local law enforcement (LE).
  • Encourage and assist with AACC and POLD efforts.
  • Hold licensees responsible: provide publicity about AACC and POLD efforts and results.
  • Work with LE to provide feedback to licensees and get management buy-in.
  • Provide useful materials in support of RBS, such as guides for identifying underage or intoxicated persons, or an RBS practices toolkit.
  • Teach community members constructive ways to provide input for license hearings.
  • Learn how conditions can be applied to alcohol licenses to meet community needs.

Note: WisAPP does not recommend using coalition resources to pay for the cost of RBS training. Many licensees will reimburse employees for the cost of training. An employee who has received a citation for serving an underage person could probably pay for RBS training at a fraction of the cost of paying the citation amount. Coalitions may find they have more effective uses of their time and funding than to provide free training to local licensees.

Sober Server Ordinances Summary

People who sell or serve alcohol while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs may make poor decisions about when to refuse service to an underage or intoxicated patron. This analysis by the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project (WisAPP) summarizes explains how sober server or impaired server ordinances can help communities.

View the Sober Server Ordinances Summary (PDF)

Identification Scanners

An Identification Scanner (“ID scanner”) is a device that is capable of scanning an identification card such as driver’s license or official state ID. It is used to help determine the validity of the ID. The scanner can be simple or complex. Some scanners may have the ability to store information about multiple IDs, but not all do. ID scanners, depending on their capabilities, read encoded information from a magnetic strip, barcode (linear or 2D), or computer chip on the state ID and use that information to verify the ID’s authenticity. They can display a variety of information such as the name, age, birthdate, address, and/or a picture of the customer. Many can store thousands of records and are capable of being immediately downloaded with the correct compliance software. However, not all ID scanners function properly, and many fake IDs are sophisticated enough not to be caught by ID scanners.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why would a licensee need an ID scanner?
An ID scanner is a very useful tool for a licensee. An accurate ID scanner can be used for age verification and to flag underage drinkers. It can also collect and track customer demographic data. Some scanners can be used to determine whether the photo on the ID matches the person submitting it, weed out underage drinkers, create a record with customer names. More sophisticated scanners can collect personal information and be used for customer management, such as by tagging banned patrons.

Why would a municipality want a licensee to have an ID scanner?
An ID scanner can help a licensee improve its underage alcohol compliance, thereby decreasing underage drinking. It can also be used to identify people involved in an incident.

May the municipality include a requirement in a new alcohol license that the licensee use ID scanners?
Yes. This is a reasonable use of the municipality’s licensing powers for most license types.

May the municipality enact an ordinance requiring licensees to use ID scanners?
Yes. Requiring use of ID scanners is a reasonable use of the municipality’s police powers.

May a municipality provide an ID scanner to an alcohol retail licensee?
No. It is illegal for any Wisconsin municipality to provide an alcohol retail licensee (including a temporary licensee) with any device capable of scanning an official identification card. “No municipality may provide, to any retail licensee under this chapter, any device capable of scanning an official identification card.” Wis. Stat. §125.09(7).

May a municipality sell, give, or loan an ID scanner to an alcohol retail licensee?
No. Those are all ways of providing. One intent of the ID scanner law, Wis. Stat. §125.09(7), was to prevent municipalities from having any control over the physical scanner itself.

May a municipality provide an ID scanner to a temporary licensee, such as a county fair?
No. A municipality may not provide an ID scanner to a temporary licensee, even just for a day.

May an independent community organization or coalition provide an ID scanner to an alcohol retail licensee?
Yes. An independent community organization or coalition may purchase, pay for, or otherwise provide ID scanners for licensees.

If the organization or coalition receives funding from a municipality, it could still provide ID scanners if it is independent from the municipality in its decision-making process. In other words, if the organization or coalition uses discretion in making decisions about how to use its resources; and the municipality is not directing the provision of ID scanners.

Is a county included as a municipality for purposes of being prohibited from providing an ID scanner to an alcohol retail licensee?
Probably not under the current law. The ID scanner law, Wis. Stat. §125.09(7), was enacted in 2013 entirely in response to some police departments loaning ID scanners to bars and then using the collected information to arrest bar patrons that were violating probation or parole or had outstanding warrants. Wis. Stat. §125.09(7) only applies to municipalities. For the purposes of Ch. 125, Alcohol Beverages, Wis. Stat. §125.02(11) specifically defines municipality as “a city, village or town”; therefore Wis. Stat. §125.09(7) does not apply to counties.

However, Wisconsin law has other examples where a county is treated as a municipality. For example, the chapter of Statutes dealing with General Municipality Law, Wis. Stats. Ch. 66, includes a county as a form of municipality for purposes of home rule. Due to this ambiguity, a county might place itself at risk of litigation if it were to similarly provide ID scanners and then have its sheriffs retrieve the collected information for policing purposes.