At least one major Wisconsin business — MillerCoors — has opposed the creation of an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement led by a political appointee, saying that the state's current enforcement system is working well.
Senate Bill 801 has brought out some of the heaviest hitters in state politics. Less than a month ago, Fitzgerald's brother, former Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, signed up to lobby for the state's wholesale wine and liquor sellers.
For the first time Thursday, Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged talking to his brother about the bill. The Senate leader said his brother hadn't exercised improper influence over the process but also declined to say how many times they had talked about the bill.
"The angle is we currently have laws on the books and they're just not being enforced," Fitzgerald said, insisting that was his reason for pushing the bill.
The proposal would also give a special liquor exemption to the Kohler American Resort. Kohler's American Club is distilling a chocolate brandy but having difficulties selling it because of state law.
Fitzgerald said he was seeking to help that business grow but didn't specifically say why Kohler should receive an exemption that many other alcohol makers would like to receive.
"It's a carve-out," the senator acknowledged.
Kohler Corp. executive chairman Herb Kohler has been a frequent donor to Republicans, including Fitzgerald.
Wisconsin has a complicated system governing the making, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages that is known as the three-tier system. It dates back to the 1930s and was intended to prevent monopolies on the sale of beer, wine and spirits by separating businesses involved in alcohol production, wholesale and retail.
The system can both limit the businesses of brewers, distributors and retailers and provide them with lucrative opportunities, so proposed changes to the law often provoke intense legislative battles.
Vos said he doubted the bill as written would pass the Assembly this legislative session.
"I think it's very difficult to move that bill at least in our own caucus," Vos told reporters.
He said he agreed there is a need to have better enforcement of alcohol laws and wanted to grant Kohler approval for its project. But he said he believed a more comprehensive measure was needed that would ensure particular types of businesses were not put at a disadvantage.
"My goal is to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to thrive in Wisconsin while still following the law," Vos said.
Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this article.