Governor says change in liquor laws could help tourism


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Richard Piatt reporting Bit by bit, change is coming to Utah's liquor laws. They've been the subject of critics and jokesters for years. Now Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is looking at further changes to the way alcoholic drinks are governed.

Like it or not, Utah has a reputation for weird liquor laws. For the governor, that perception is bad for business.

Utah bar owners can now serve a larger shot of liquor: an ounce and a half. Bars and restaurants can serve drinks on election days. Those kinds of changes are considered normalizing Utah's alcoholic beverage laws. But Gov. Huntsman -- aware of a lingering reputation --wonders if more can be done.

"Let's sit around that round table and have the conversation and get it done, because it does serve as an obstacle, and it does serve as a perception problem. I do think it's time to address it," he said.

At his monthly KUED news conference, the governor said a negative image, even a wrong one, could hurt tourism.

Governor says change in liquor laws could help tourism

At the state Capitol, lawmakers are constantly reminded that tourism is a growing industry here.

Lee Von der Esch of the Utah Office of Tourism said, "The tourism industry is $6 billion. That's a major industry."

So, the governor wants to at least start talking about removing Utah's private club requirement at bars and restaurants. Bar owners and the Utah Hospitality Association are planning a petition drive to do the same thing. Enough signatures would put the measure on a ballot in 2010.

But Huntsman is talking to the Legislature first.

Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, said, "Let's not have the rest of the world think you can't drink in Utah if you choose to. That would be a choice."

There could be some resistance from more conservative members of the Legislature. And although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has weighed in on Utah liquor laws in the past, it has not addressed this particular law. Those are two unknowns as the governor and bar owners advocate change.

Here's another change: This fall the so-called alco-pops will be sold only at liquor stores. That's another change that is unique to Utah.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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