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SALT LAKE CITY — State senators will debate a sweeping alcohol policy reform bill this week, but one of their old colleagues won't be rooting for it to pass.
In fact, former Senate President Michael Waddoups spent Monday on Capitol Hill telling legislators HB442 is a "bad bill."
"I think it’s going to lead toward more children being involved in alcohol, probably more children deaths, certainly more abuse and overconsumption because they’re not protecting children with the bill. Protection is the issue that’s not being addressed," Waddoups said.
The legislation gives restaurants that serve alcohol the option of removing the so-called "Zion curtain," a seven-foot barrier that separates liquor dispensing from diners. Options include 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.
Waddoups contends the new law would expose more children to alcohol.
"They’re allowing children to be within 10 feet or 6 feet, and then they put in exceptions that say, 'Oh, unless the restaurant's full, then you can sit right next to it. We don’t care.' I mean, that’s ridiculous," he said.
Waddoups said he has a personal interest in the legislation because his wife, Anna Kay, was hit by a drunken driver.
The former four-term Republican senator was involved in writing alcohol bills, including the one that created what has become known as the "Zion curtain."
“I hate that term. That’s pejorative. It’s offensive. You know, we’re in a day and age when bigotry and racism and all that is really frowned on, and yet here we’ve got everyone in the state poking fun at the (LDS) Church. I think that’s just wrong,” Waddoups said.
The bill would also increase the markup on alcoholic beverages by 2 percent, with the additional earmarked for school-based underage drinking prevention programs for eighth- and 10th-graders.
The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last week.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said he expects it to come to the Senate floor on Wednesday, the day before the session ends.
“We felt like we had a broad range, a broad consensus when we put this together,” Stevenson said, although some concerns have surfaced, such as restaurants in strip malls that later lease to a religious organization, creating proximity issues.
That could be solved by grandfathering in the dozen or so restaurants around the state impacted, he said.
Stevenson said he spoke to Waddoups a few weeks ago.
"He was quite adamant that the ‘Zion curtain’ was a great investment,” he said. "I certainly respect his opinion. But I really believe that with what we’re doing here, the state of Utah gets much better alcohol policy out of what we’re doing than what we’ve got."