Liquor laws facing another round of change


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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Legislature may consider more changes to the state's liquor laws next year. This time, the focus would be on allowing more liquor licenses for restaurants.

Restaurant liquor licenses are available on a population-based quota system. There is a perception that they can be hard to get in Utah. At times, they are.

There are plenty of full liquor licenses available for restaurants to serve hard liquor this month. There are eight applicants, and 12 licenses available. But there aren't enough for those who wanted limited alcohol restaurant permit -- that's serving beer and wine only. Nine business owners want a limited permit. There are only five of those to hand out.

Commission chair Sam Granato says saying no can be tough.

"I think there's too much fear when alcohol is mentioned. It's a necessary component to the bottom line of these restaurants, clubs and national chains that want to come here," he said.

To ease pressure on applicants, Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is working to change state law. His idea would convert unused tavern licenses to restaurant licenses.

Taverns serve 3.2 beer only. Right now, 51 of the 95 tavern licenses are unused. Changing the law could boost Utah's business climate. Plus, Sen. Valentine says restaurant drinkers tend to be more moderate drinkers.

"The difference is the way the product is presented. In a restaurant, it's with food. In a club, it's all by itself," he said.

Sen. Valentine is also working on legislation to allow business owners to buy and sell their own liquor licenses, rather than going through the DABC.

Alcohol law enforcement measures may also get a closer look next year. Liquor laws underwent major changes in 2009 when lawmakers eliminated private clubs and allowed a larger shot per drink. Such changes -- then and now -- are tempered over concern about underage drinking and overconsumption.

Sen. Valentine is working with a number of stakeholders to finalize the bill. That includes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which says it does not plan to oppose the bill.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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