A bill that gives cities increased authority to revoke a retailer’s cigarette and tobacco license was signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker at Aurora Sinai Medical Center on Milwaukee’s near west side on Tuesday.
The law will make it easier for city leaders to remove “chronic nuisance properties” from struggling neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s west side that “have served as magnets for criminal activity,” according to a statement released by Near West Side Partners this morning.
Near West Side Partners is a nonprofit organization made up of leaders from companies with a presence in west side neighborhoods including Aurora Health Care, Harley-Davidson, Marquette University, MillerCoors and Potawatomi Business Development Corp. The group promotes economic development, safety, and unity in struggling neighborhoods.
“Under previous law, poorly managed retail businesses have been able to hide behind their tobacco license to keep
the business afloat – despite becoming a drain on police resources and contributing to crime and disorder in the
community,” said Keith Stanley, executive director of Near West Side Partners. “The legislation the governor signed (Tuesday) closes this loophole, saving police resources, improving safety and promoting economic development in our neighborhoods.”
Under the new law, a municipality that issues a cigarette or tobacco products retailer license can suspend, revoke or refuse to renew that license if the shop owner does any of the following:
- Violates sale restrictions.
- Allows the premises to become “disorderly, riotous, indecent or improper.”
- Fails to meet sanitation standards.
- Allows criminals or prostitutes to loiter on the premises.
- Is convicted of manufacturing, possessing or selling a controlled substance.
- Knowingly allows another person to manufacture, possess or sell narcotics on the premises.
Under the previous law, a retailer’s license could be terminated or suspended only if:
- A retailer is convicted twice of selling cigarettes or tobacco products without a license.
- A retailer is found guilty of failing to exercise due care.
- A court finds the retailer guilty of selling tobacco products to minors two or more times within a 12-month period.
The new law does not limit the number of tobacco licenses the city can issue or give the city the power to deny new licenses.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Michael Murphy sent a letter to Walker on Feb. 24, urging him to sign the bill.
“There remains a regulatory gap with businesses engaged predominantly or exclusively in the tobacco industry,” the letter reads. “Current state law only permits the termination of a license if the licensee repeatedly sells cigarette or tobacco products without a license or fails to keep complete and accurate records of all purchases and receipts of cigarettes and tobacco products. Thus, despite complaints from neighboring businesses and residents that a business is engaged in illegal activity, sometimes openly, those businesses know that current law makes their tobacco license nearly untouchable.”
Barrett and Murphy said the business the bill targets “place a tourniquet on economic development” in Milwaukee and ward-off new businesses.
“The addition of tobacco licensing authority is a necessary step to abate significant nuisance activity that thwarts vital economic development and public safety,” the two wrote.
A Milwaukee Police Department representative was not immediately available for comment.