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SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker unveiled a much-anticipated Utah alcohol law reform bill Monday, though several key provisions remain in flux less than two weeks before the Legislature adjourns.
HB442 would allow restaurants to remove the so-called "Zion Curtain" that shields customers from liquor mixing and pouring if they install a 10-foot buffer between the area and where children are seated. People in the buffer zone would be subject to electronic age verification.
One of the sticking points for the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association is the 400 restaurants that were exempt from the 2009 law requiring a separate alcohol preparation area.
Under the bill, those restaurants would have to erect the barrier or put in the 10-foot buffer zone.
"I think this is just a first stab at the bill. I think there will be some changers going forward," said Steve Hunter, a Salt Lake restaurant association lobbyist who has worked with House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, on the bill.
Wilson and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the Senate's point person on alcohol legislation, canceled a news conference Monday morning to discuss HB442. Wilson toured several restaurants last Friday to get their perspective on proposed changes to the law.
Last week, Wilson said there seems to be agreement among Utah restaurateurs on the bill. While the Utah Restaurant Association has said it supports the legislation, the Salt Lake area association isn't on board.
Hunter said discussions are ongoing.
The Salt Lake association also has issues with the plan to do away with the "dining club" license to dispense alcohol. Dining clubs are somewhere between restaurants and bars in terms of the amount of alcohol and food they're allowed to serve.
The bill requires the state's approximately 100 dining clubs to choose to be a restaurant or a bar.
Hunter says owners are concerned because the proposed law would change how they run their businesses.
The bill also would:
- Increase the markup on alcoholic beverages.
- Create two school-based underage drinking prevention programs for eighth- and 10th-graders.
- Require restaurants and bars to display a sign that states whether they are a restaurant or a bar.
- Extend the hours during which a restaurant may sell alcohol on a weekend or a state or federal holiday.
- Require a training program for retail managers and retail owners.