The Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project is the only project in Wisconsin focused exclusively on improving Wisconsin’s alcohol environment through technical assistance, training and tools for local leaders. 

In addition to work with specific communities, the project advises local government, local elected officials, members of the Legislature and media on alcohol-related topics.

Excessive alcohol use costs Wisconsin residents $6.8 billion annually. Local alcohol regulation and licensing has resulted in a number of natural experiments where similar but different public policies have been adopted and implemented. Wisconsin’s alcohol policy is largely municipal with a division of responsibilities and authority between municipalities and state government. The focus on local control gives municipalities both the responsibility and authority to address alcohol-related issues community-wide.

Unlike most other states, Wisconsin awards alcohol licenses at the municipal level. While municipalities have discretion in awarding licenses, once awarded a license may only be suspended, revoked or non-renewed for cause.

A comparison of existing policies and analysis of the difference in outcomes could provide useful information to communities considering adoption and implementation. Analysis would likely include a detailed timeline of the policy development, analysis of the specific provisions review of municipal, law enforcement and court data, and interviews.

Potential topics

Outlet density

While Wisconsin has significantly more licensed alcohol outlets than other states, the alcohol outlet density of individual municipalities is rarely measured. Measuring, assessing and identifying clusters of alcohol outlets in selected municipalities is a public health approach to alcohol control. Using recently released CDC materials on calculating alcohol outlet density this project would provide outlet density information for community leaders looking to create a more positive alcohol environment.

An interest in or knowledge of geocoding, mapping software or Tableau would be helpful. Individuals must have transportation or qualify for UW-Madison fleet services and sign confidentiality agreements as needed.

Public intoxication ordinances

Wisconsin repealed its public intoxication statute when its mental health laws were revised in the late 20th century. Disorderly conduct citations became the surrogate violation for public intoxication sending Wisconsin’s arrest rate for disorderly conduct to one of the highest rates in the nation. Municipalities are adopting a number of local ordinances to address the problems by intoxication including to personal vulnerability to harm and the risk of alcohol poisoning.

An interested individual would have the opportunity to examine the different ordinances, conduct interviews, review statistics and public documents to examine the impact of these ordinances and the difference (if any) in how the different approaches impact the community or cited individuals. Individuals must have transportation or qualify for UW-Madison fleet services, pass a background check and sign confidentiality agreements as needed.