Lawmakers Approve Sweeping Changes to Liquor Laws

Lawmakers Approve Sweeping Changes to Liquor Laws

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- . The Utah Legislature has signed off on sweeping changes to the state's liquor laws and raised the tax on beer.

The Utah House approved both measures Monday.

First, the House voted 51-19 to join the Senate's earlier unanimous approval of nearly 275 pages of changes ranging from the precise metering of mixed drinks to the disposition of private wine collections.

Then the beer tax was approved on a 39-35 vote, but the tax was reduced because of an agreement to do so if the new liquor laws passed. Instead of increasing the tax from $12 a barrel to $14, it increases the tax to $12.80 a barrel.

Both bills will go to Gov. Mike Leavitt to sign into law.

The liquor laws also raise licensing fees and the state's markup on liquor and wine for another $3.3 million a year in state revenue.

The smallest liquor club will pay an extra $240 a year, Nick Hales, chairman of the state liquor commission, has said. The fees haven't been raised since 1984.

While it generally toughens liquor controls, the bill cuts down on the red tape that binds Utah's resort, convention-hall and hotel operators. They could apply once for a banquet license for alcohol service without having to apply for a limited number of permits with each new event.

For occasional drinkers, the most significant change ends the "wink-and-a-nod" practice that allows club walk-ins to avoid having to sign up for a membership or pay dues, a minimum of $12 a year.

The change will make visitors buy a temporary membership -- $4 for three weeks. One member could use a single membership to walk in with a party of up to seven others, but no indiscriminate hosting would be allowed by any member already inside a club.

In addition, minors will be allowed into private clubs -- businesses that make a majority of their money from alcohol sales -- before 1 p.m. if liquor is not being served, Urquhart said.

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, was concerned that some businesses that cater to tourists could be hurt if minors are banned. He tried to amend the bill to allow minors who are accompanied by their parents to eat at an establishment before 9 p.m.

The lawmakers, however, disagreed.

Beer taxes raise about $10 million a year, and $3 million of that money is supposed to go to local law enforcement to crack down on drunken driving. However, in these tight budget times the lawmakers raided the fund for other purposes.

Rep. Hughes called this unfair taxation, referring to the Boston Tea Party.

"We're still taxing the tea," said Rep. Steven Mascaro, R-West Jordan.

But Rep. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, said it wasn't tea they were talking about.

"You drink too much tea you get hyper and have to go to the bathroom. You drink too much beer and bad things can happen," he said, adding that this bill addresses the problems with consumption.

Rep. Scott Daniels, D-Salt Lake City, said this is a tax that goes after the "politically quite powerless" minority of drinkers in the state.

Only one member of the state's five-member liquor commission is a social drinker; the rest are teetotaling members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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