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Utah House panel OKs opening state liquor stores on some holidays

Published: Friday, Feb. 17 2012 11:48 a.m. MST

Assistant manager George Pence arranges the alcohol at a State liquor store in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thursday, May 27, 2010.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — While much of Utah shuts down for parades and family gatherings on Pioneer Day, one state-run business could be open for the first time.

A House committee Friday approved a bill that would create a pilot program to allow some state liquor stores to open on holidays, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and the Fourth of July.

"I just don't see that this is going to have a huge impact," said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper. "This is just good business."

Others, including Senate President Michael Waddoups' wife, Anna Kay, warned of dire consequences holiday openings may bring such as more drinking and driving. She was injured in a crash with a drunken driver 10 years ago this month.

"I think this is foot in the door and I speak against this bill as victim of DUI," she told the committee.

Perry revived HB283, sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, after the House Government Operations Committee voted it down earlier this week. His amendment to remove the four specific holidays and add a June 2014 sunset date on the pilot program swayed the committee. The bill moves to the House floor for debate.

Should the legislation become law, the first holiday that liquor stores could be open is Memorial Day. Arent said more likely it would be July 24, known as Pioneer Day. It celebrates Mormon pioneers' arrival to the Salt Lake Valley.

Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, wants to study Utah alcohol policy a step further. He's proposing that a task force look at privatization.

"I've had a change of heart on how we run our alcohol system in the state of Utah," he said, adding his thinking changed reading several recent reports and audits about the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. "I'm concerned we're headed in the wrong direction when it comes to the management and control of our alcohol in Utah."

Committee members said that discussion was too broad for the bill at hand.

Arent said she didn't want HB283 to get caught up in the privatization talk. "That is a big issue. This is a narrow issue," she said.

The bill says DABC "may" open a limited number of stores at its discretion on holidays, except for the four specifically prohibited. It would appropriate $35,000 a year for that purpose, which Arent said won't go far. DABC must also report to the Legislature twice a year on its results.

Opening stores on holidays would annually bring $128,000 to the state's general fund and $39,800 to the public school lunch program, according to legislative fiscal analysts.

"They're going to do it where it makes financial sense to do it," Arent said.

One of the reasons for opening liquor stores on holidays is to cater to tourists, she said.

Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon questioned that notion.

"I don't see a reason why we need to become like other states," he said. "Why not encourage other states to become like us?"

Cannon said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies show increased availability leads to more consumption, which leads to more car crashes.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, who has 40 years in law enforcement, said at the same time state liquor stores are open on holidays, the UHP will put more troopers on the road.

"It just doesn't make sense," he said.

Perry said he would be first in line to repeal the bill if it leads to more car accidents and fatalities, but said, "I think we should give this a chance."

Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka said holidays like Pioneer Day are traditional times for family gatherings. "Is this about tourists or Utah tradition and what we do here?"

The bill, she said, would lead to increased drinking.

"When someone calls up and says, 'What can I bring?' Instead of bringing salads and some cupcakes they say, 'Stop by the liquor store.'"

Arent said she's not trying to focus on the "party days."

"I don't see people out partying on Columbus Day. I don't see people out partying on Presidents Day. I see those as normal retail days," she said.

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

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