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Brown County OWI Task Force, Tavern League spar over expansion plans


GREEN BAY, WI (WTAQ) - The Brown County OWI Task Force hopes to expand their presence from the streets to inside bars and taverns.

Wisconsin State Patrol regional program manager Michael Panosh believes it'll be a preventative measure to help people understand their message of eliminating both underage drinking and drunk driving.

"We'll check ID's to look for underage drinkers and if patrons want to have a conversation with our officers about drunk driving enforcement and what the task force is all about, we'll be happy to oblige," says Panosh. 

Panosh says they'll ask someone who appears to be underage for their ID, and if they prove they are of-age, the conversation will end there. If they are underage, Panosh adds they'll be cited. 

As for if an officer spots a patron who may have had one too many, Panosh says they won't face a sobriety test. 

"The officer will direct them to the bartender to learn about the safe ride program or about a taxicab company, and hopefully give them that one last chance for people to make the right choice," Panosh said.

However, not everyone is on board. Brown County Tavern League President Barry Fitzgerald is one of them.

"We've been very cooperative with the task force, we both have the same goals," says Fitzgerald. "But this is a completely separate issue that we are completely opposed to."

Fitzgerald believes that the current system of dealing with underage compliance checks on a complaint basis works. He also feels that a bad side effect will be a loss of business for an area of bars if customers know that's where task force officers will be going door-to-door.

"You know a lot of people will feel it's an invasive process, and will choose to go someplace else," Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald points out the Tavern League have met with Brown County Sheriff John Gossage as recently as a month ago, and this idea was never brought to them. He adds that Panosh has not met with him yet and he would like to get a sit-down.

"We would at least like to be heard on the issue, we stand ready to work with law enforcement, it's in everybody's best interests," says Fitzgerald.