The “Cool Parents” Win

An interesting case was decided recently, on an issue that most Wisconsinites have
dealt with either as a young person growing up in the state, or as a
parent.  Wisconsin Courts decided
that until the State Legislature says otherwise, adults are allowed to allow underage
drinking parties at their homes.  (There
could still potentially be liability for the aftermath of said parties, but
that is a topic for a different article). Currently, state statute
does not allow a county or municipality to legislate on alcoholic beverages
unless the law strictly conforms with state law.  In this case, the Court of Appeals ruled that
a county ordinance prohibiting adults from hosting underage drinking parties at
their homes was stricter than the state ordinance which prohibits said parties
at a “premises” owned by the adult.  “Premises”
is defined elsewhere in state statute as a “licensed premises” which is
generally a tavern or liquor store.  As a
result, the parents prevailed.  It seems
unlikely that the state legislature intended this result when the laws were
written, but Wisconsin does have some of the most relaxed alcohol laws in the
country.  Given the culture of drinking
by people of all ages in Wisconsin, and the unfortunate results that sometimes
occur, I believe this may be on the State’s legislative agenda in the coming
session.  This is a good example of how a
single word in a law (or document) can completely change its meaning.