Curtain comes down, prices go up; liquor reform bill passes Legislature

In this 2011 photo, a frosted glass curtain hides a portion of the bar at Brio Tuscan Grille at Fashion Place Mall in Murray City, Utah. A lawmaker introduced a proposal during Utah’s general session Monday aiming to allow restaurants to get rid of barriers known as "Zion Curtains" that block people from seeing alcoholic drinks being made while a number of new provisions. | Photo by Paul Fraughton/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — On the second-to-last day of the 2017 Utah Legislature, the third substitute of a liquor reform bill introduced just eight days earlier passed the Senate and is on its way to Gov. Gary Herbert to become law.

Totaling approximately 144 pages in its original version, Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, said Alcohol Amendments – designated as HB 442 – was “massive” but expressed his general support.

As such a large bill with so many different components, allies and opponents ran the gamut, with each addressing different parts of the legislation.

Read more: Public torn as Zion Curtain reforms move forward

On the floor of the House, where the second substitution of HB 442 passed by a vote of 58-10, the sponsor of the bill, House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Layton, said it was a case of where not everyone got everything they wanted. However, he ultimately called it “a great exercise in collaboration and trying to find balance between a lot of different parties and interest groups.”

In its final version, some of the areas of Utah’s liquor laws that will be changed include:

  • Four options to prevent children from seeing alcohol preparation in restaurants: a separate preparation room; the 7-foot “Zion Curtain,” which was implemented for restaurants built after 2009; a 10-foot perimeter around the bar where children may not be seated; or a 42-inch structure built 5 feet from the bar. The latter specification represents an amendment from a previous version of the bill specifying 6 feet.
  • Restaurants operating before 2009 that had been grandfathered in would have to comply with one of these options by July 2022.
  • Two percent increase in state markup for alcohol sales.
  • Revenue from the price increase will be put toward alcohol education program, including alcohol prevention taught alongside eighth grade health classes and drunk driving prevention taught alongside tenth grade drivers’ education.
  • Change of the liquor licensing to simply a choice between a “restaurant” or “bar” license, with the elimination of the “club” license and allowance for gradual phasing in of the food-versus-alcohol sales ratio for those moving to restaurant licenses.
  • Reduction in distance that an alc0hol-serving restaurant may be located in relation to a public space such as park, school or church from 600 feet to 300 feet. This represents the distance from the door of the establishment via a walking route and is a change from a previous version of HB 442 specifying 450 feet. The distance from a bar, liquor store or packaging outlet will remain at 600 feet.

At the Senate floor debate Wednesday, co-sponsor Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, called himself the “watchdog of alcohol policy in the Senate” but ultimately said he believed this is a good policy for Utah.

While not mentioning the Zion Curtain specifically, he said that requirements for a “separate preparation area” had caused some consternation over the years, not because it didn’t work for its intended cause but rather because it had been confused with dual licensing and grandfathering issues.

It’s time to make a few changes,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson discussed how states have evolved their liquor laws since the Prohibition era and mentioned other states with similar regulations as those included in HB 442 – as well as some that are even more stringent, such as those with “dry” counties. These statements were similar to those made by Wilson when he spoke on the floor of the House the day of the bill’s passage.

Read more: Many states have similar provisions, says sponsor of liquor reform bill

Some senators raised concerns regarding various aspects of the bill and ultimately voted against it.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he felt like the bill had been rushed through too quickly, calling it a “trust me bill” and saying that he believed it plays to an inaccurate image of Utah as a state with “crazy alcohol laws.”

“If this bill passes and is wrong, how difficult will it be to come again to get the changes made in the bill?” he said. “If on the other hand, if this bill is defeated, we still have people talking.”

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, cited concerns with the license changes, saying businesses had already had to recently make big changes from previous legislation.

“In my district, there are several dining clubs … that have recently invested in the hundreds of thousands – and in some cases over a million dollars – under a certain set of rules,” he said. “This bill will change that, will strip away that license and force them to operate under a different set of rules where their business may not make it.”

Fillmore ultimately voted with a “no-ish,” which brought some chuckles to the floor.

When the final vote came, the bill passed by 20-9, with Southern Utah Sens. Don Ipson, Ralph Okerlund and Evan Vickers voting in favor and Sen. David Hinkins opposed.

Hinkins told St. George News that even though he personally supports removal of the Zion Curtain, he believes it ultimately should come down to the prerogative of business owners and their customers – or lack thereof.

“I think people have choices,” Hinkins said, “and I believe that if they elect to take their kids to a place that they know serves liquor, that’s up to them. …  Nobody forces people to go to those restaurants, with them or their children.”

If people choose not to patronize those restaurants, that’s their choice, Hinkins said, a fact that business owners need to realize as well when it comes to the design of their restaurants.

“A restaurant owner should have that choice,” he said. “That should be his discretion. If people quit coming to his restaurant and he finds out why, he’ll probably put one (a barrier) up. Nobody says you can’t have one.”

The bill has been enrolled and will go to Gov. Herbert for final approval.

Updated March 9 3:30 p.m. – Comments from Sen. David Hinkins.

Resources

Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

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6 Comments

  • Craig March 9, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Elected officials have never seen anything they cannot improve or fix with increased volumes of regulations.

  • wilbur March 9, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Just more confirmation for the rest of the nation that LDS nut cases run the state government.

  • Chris March 9, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    “an inaccurate image of Utah as a state with “crazy alcohol laws.” says Lyle Hillyard who never bought an alcoholic beverage in his life. Utah Repubs love to champion “personal responsibility” except when it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs.

  • r2d2 March 9, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    To late for the kids in northern Utah that died the other day in the car crash.

  • jaltair March 9, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    A bill just to increase the tax on liquor. Now, UT has a source of income to depend on. The monies will merely allow more monies to flow into state coffers and will not get spent on programs, but will help pay for health educators. The health educators or independent contractors will just document a certain amount of time spent on alcohol education. Trust me, I’ve seen this stuff in action.

  • high5 March 10, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Its about the Money- More DUI’s Musta been to many that blew under .08 and drove off.
    Its not gonna solve much- Count the numbers a year from now. The Crashes will probably Rise. So Sad they waist Legislative Time on Senseless Ideas. When More Pressing Issues Lie in Wait.

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