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Lawmakers considering changes to liquor business

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 16 2011 2:21 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to allow alcohol sales from outlets adjacent to grocery stores was met with little enthusiasm from Utah lawmakers Wednesday.

The primary concern for multiple Republican legislators was that selling wine or liquor in the same location as groceries would encourage greater consumption, which runs contrary to the goals of the state's liquor laws.

"We want to limit impulse buying," Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy, said.

Currently, the state sells liquor and wine in state-run stores that often are in inconvenient locations that require buyers to make additional stops. Only beer with lower alcohol is sold in grocery and convenience stores.

Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake City, said it is a "nanny state" mentality for the state to limit opportunities to purchase alcohol.

"I don't need the government to be the moral regulator of how much I consume," Doughty said.

While the state has annual sales of more than $300 million, Bob Springmeyer, president of Bonneville Research, said that allowing privately owned liquor stores at grocery stores would boost that revenue. Bonneville was hired by the Legislature to provide recommendations for improving the retail operations of the state's liquor agency.

Liquor and wine would not be sold in the actual grocery store, and Springmeyer said that the low-alcohol beer could also be taken off grocery store shelves and moved into the separate liquor store.

"We've never thought it appropriate in the state of Utah to have alcohol sold in the grocery stores next to apple juice and produce," Springmeyer said.

Other recommendations made by Springmeyer's company were giving stores more flexibility to set hours that can accommodate peak traffic times, consolidating some stores paying store employees more money to reduce training costs.

Lawmakers are expected to make significant changes to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control during next year's legislative session. A recent audit revealed years of mismanagement and a former director was forced to resign earlier this year after it was discovered that a company owned by his son had ongoing contracts with the agency for warehouse supplies.

Among the proposals that will likely be floated is the privatization of liquor stores, although the state would likely retain the existing monopoly on distribution. Historically, Utah legislators — a strong majority of which are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which prohibits alcohol consumption — have been opposed to loosening laws pertaining to the retail sale of liquor.

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