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Utah House committee says yes, no and maybe to three liquor bills

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 8:45 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Land developers and real estate brokers urged a House committee Tuesday to consider proposed changes to Utah liquor laws that would foster economic development.

"We're here to tell you we're out their beating the drum for you," said Tai Biesinger, of Pentad Properties. "There are some exciting concepts that would like to come to town."

But, he said, the state's confusing alcohol regulations hinder popular restaurants and dining clubs from locating to Utah.

"We have a perception problem," said Kris Longson, whose company is trying to redevelop Cottonwood Mall, which would include 11 eating establishments. The project, he said, won't get off the ground unless eateries know they will be able get liquor licenses.

The House Government Operations Committee heard three alcohol-related bills Tuesday. It said no to holiday liquor sales, hold on to making sure drinkers serve on the state alcohol commission and yes to new a category of license for dining clubs.

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, called passage of the latter bill, HB142, a "baby step" toward changing perceptions of Utah.

Dining clubs currently fall into the same licensing category as social clubs where drinking is the focus. Dining clubs, he said, are more akin to restaurants where food is the focus. The Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control typically has restaurant license available, while the wait for a club license is months.

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said Utah needs the business restaurants bring. "People don't go to restaurants to get tanked. They really don't," he said.

For Froerer's bill creating a dining club license to be effective, lawmakers also would have to pass his HB270, which proposes to do away with state quotas for restaurant and dining clubs licenses.

Froerer pulled that bill from the agenda and said he doesn't know whether he will run it this session.

"That's a harder sell," said Froerer, who has unsuccessfully proposed similar legislation the past few years.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, couldn't sell the committee on HB283, which would have allowed DABC to open some state liquor stores on holidays. Restaurant and bars are open holidays, but allowing people to buy alcohol to take home makes drinking safer, she said.

"We already allow our citizens to drink" on holidays, she said. "We're making it very inconvenient and forcing them to be on the road."

In opposing the bill, Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka asked, "What is the goal for staying open? Is the goal to sell more liquor? Is that the goal here in the state of Utah?"

Sutherland Institute executive director Paul Mero also opposed the bill, saying he'd "like to see liquor sales and consumption restricted to the highest degree."

Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake, pitched a bill to require 40 percent of the state liquor commission to be "regular" imbibers and to affirm that by affidavit. Drinkers, he said, should have a say in the Utah's $300 million liquor industry.

"There does need to be some fairness," Oda said in making a motion to approve the bill.

Committee members weren't opposed to the idea, but said HB193 needs revisions, such as better defining "regular" drinker, before moving it the House floor. The committee voted to put the measure on hold.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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