Judge blocks statewide caps on bars and restaurant capacities, bar owners say legal battle creates confusion

Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 8:48 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Sawyer Co. judge has temporarily blocked the statewide order limiting the number of people allowed to gather at bars and restaurants.

On Tuesday, the Tavern League of Wisconsin took aim at last week’s order limiting the number of people allowed to gather in public locations. It filed a lawsuit in Sawyer Co., asking the court to issue an injunction blocking the order.

It also asked the judge to grant a restraining order preventing the order from going into effect. On Wednesday morning, the judge granted its request.

After the judge’s ruling, the Tavern League issued a statement via its Facebook page. In it TLW explained to its members what the restraining order means and, importantly, noting that it does not block any local orders.

The League also encouraged bars and restaurants to follow WEDC and CDC guidelines at their businesses.

A Sawyer County judge has just issued a temporary restraining order in our lawsuit against the enforcement of Secretary...

Posted by Tavern League of Wisconsin on Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The trade association stated the industry cannot afford greater restrictions on its businesses, which it argues have not proven effective.

“Restaurants, taverns, bars, and supper clubs did not cause this pandemic, but they are systematically facing bankruptcy, closure, and economic ruin,” TLW President Chris Marsicano wrote in a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed.

The Tavern League contends the Dept. of Health Services' decree was enacted improperly. Citing the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision ending the extension to the Safer at Home emergency order, the League argues DHS and Secretary-designee Andrea Palm would have needed to go through the process of creating an administrative rule to issue such a mandate.

A spokesperson for Gov. Evers' Office, Britt Cudabek, told NBC15 on Tuesday the Administration believes the order stays within the parameters of the earlier Supreme Court decision.


Leann Butts, 5th Quarter bar owner, explained running their family business in the midst of covid-19 is a nightmare.

“I go from mad to sad to angry, a little bit of happiness here and there," she said. ”I wish I wasn’t the owner right now."

The Verona owner said the legal battles fighting statewide restrictions are creating confusion.

“It seems like when people start feeling comfortable to come back, then another change in an order or something else happens to make people afraid again," Butts said.

She said they’re doing their best to follow the rules and keep their doors open.

“If i don’t have this, I have nothing," she said. "Nothing is fair lately. It’s like they’re picking in choosing who can make a living.”

“We do know businesses are struggling and that’s why we’re doing the best to support small businesses,” Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said.

Barnes said the state launched a second round of grants to help struggling businesses.

“We would love to see bars and restaurants filled to capacity instead of our hospitals,” he said.

Barnes commented on the judge’s decision to block the statewide order that caps restaurant capacity at 25 percent.

“It’s not blocking the order, it’s blocking our attempt to save lives in the state,” he said.

Barnes said he wants lawmakers to join the conversation.

“The same people who are bringing about the lawsuits haven’t come to the table with ideas or suggestions about how to combat covid-19,” he said. “It would be great if they join us in the fight against COVID-19, not against the fight to keep people safe.”

This is a breaking news update. NBC15 will update this story as more information becomes available. We have also reached out to the Tavern League and the Governor’s Office and will update with statements from them as soon as they respond.

Copyright 2020 WMTV. All rights reserved.

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