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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation Friday that makes significant changes to Utah's alcohol laws, among them giving restaurants that serve alcohol alternatives to the so-called "Zion curtain."
While changes to the law that requires preparation of alcoholic drinks to take place behind a barrier was a focus for many people, the sponsor of HB442, House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the bill has many other facets intended to reduce overconsumption, underage drinking and level the playing field in the state's hospitality industry.
"This has been a great exercise in collaboration and trying to find balance between a lot of parties and interests groups. I think all have worked very well together trying to find common space," Wilson said.
HB442 passed with a 58-10 vote after about 30 minutes of floor debate. The bill moves to the Senate for its consideration.
'Rules we can live by'
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, shared that he is a child of an alcoholic, as is his wife. Some of his siblings are alcoholics, he said, as are some of their children.
As a child, Noel said his family went to an officers' club with his father where he and his sister would have nonalcoholic mixed drinks. His sister, he said, later became an alcoholic, noting some people have a genetic predisposition.
It is important that children not become "enamored" by the consumption of alcohol, and to that end, "the rules in place in the state of Utah are excellent," Noel said.
Wilson's bill includes "good rules we can live by," he said.
While she said she supported much of Wilson's bill, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said she has asked for but never received data that shows how shielding children from liquor preparation advances the state's goals of reducing overconsumption or underage drinking, particularly when they are able to see photographs of brightly colored cocktails on table cards or observe people consume them.
"No one has ever given me the data I’ve asked for all of these years," Arent said.
Wilson said the bill had broad support from the hospitality industry, the Salt Lake Chamber and restaurant associations.
Earlier this week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reiterated that it has historically worked to support legislation that advances the safety and well-being of all residents, particularly minors, and to avoid the societal costs and harms that often result from excess consumption and abuse of alcohol, underage drinking and DUIs.
Moving forward, the bill gives restaurants other options than the drink preparation shield, including erecting a 42-inch-high half wall that separates bars from dining areas; establishing a 10-foot perimeter between the bar and seating areas; having a bar in a separate room; or keeping the existing shield.
Many states have barrier laws, "so this notion it is peculiar is factually inaccurate," Wilson said during the House Republican caucus.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, also speaking during the caucus held earlier in the day, noted that his home state of Pennsylvania is among states that have a dedicated space between restaurant bars and dining spaces.
"I am almost certain that there is an area where children are not right up against the bar out of … courtesy to people in the bar," Hughes said.
"I cannot get my head around the idea that we somehow think that kids menus, crayons, screaming kids as close to a bar is something that we actually want. … It’s not a Chuck E. Cheese," he said.
The bill would also increase the markup on alcoholic beverages by 2 percent. Wilson said the additional revenue would be used to create two school-based underage drinking prevention programs for eighth- and 10th-graders, and help fund performance awards, equipment purchases and information technology enhancements within the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The amended bill gives license holders a phase-in period to adjust to changes in the law, including doing away with dining club licenses and making clear distinctions between restaurants and bars.
Dining clubs have occupied a middle ground between restaurants and bars in terms of how much food they’re required to serve. There are about 100 such establishments in Utah. Moving forward, 70 percent of their sales will need to come from food.
The bill also would:
- 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.