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Bills overhauling Utah liquor department, allowing sales on holidays advance

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 5:41 p.m. MST

Efforts to overhaul the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as well as allow some state liquor stores to open on holidays moved forward Monday in the state Legislature

Nick Short, Deseret News archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — Efforts to overhaul the mismanaged Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as well as allow some state liquor stores to open on holidays moved forward Monday in the state Legislature.

While the bills proposing administrative changes to the agency will likely make their way into law, opening state stores on holidays could hit a wall in the Senate.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, opposes any alcohol legislation that he believes would increase drinking and lead to more DUIs. His wife, Anna Kay, who was injured when a drunk driver hit her car 10 years ago, testified against HB283 at a committee hearing last week.

The House approved the measure, sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, 42-30. It would allow a few liquor outlets to open on holidays except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and Fourth of July.

"These are not partying days," Arent said of the holidays such as Columbus Day or Presidents Day.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, voted against the bill. "If people want to drink on the weekend or a holiday, why can't they buy the alcohol the day before?" he said. "I don't get that."

The state should allow market forces to drive the sale of alcohol, said Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove.

"It's a basic economic principle," he said. "I suggest we need to give this a shot."

Earlier Monday, Waddoups blocked an attempt to allow Utah's small beer breweries and wineries to increase production.

In his bill aimed at restructuring the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, proposed incentives to raise the annual caps on the gallons those companies may produce.

Waddoups called it a "wrongheaded direction." He said he believes it would lead to more alcohol consumption and consequently more DUIs.

Wasatch Brewery owner Greg Schirf disagreed that drinking would increase.

"We're not going to have less beer sold in Utah. You're just going to have less Utah beer sold in Utah," he told the Senate Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee.

Not allowing small breweries to produce more helps large manufacturers like Budweiser, Miller and Coors, all which are held by foreign companies, at the expense of local businesses, he said.

"What I make in a year, Budweiser spills in an afternoon," Schirf said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said the brewery issue doesn't belong in this legislation, but is worthy of discussion over the summer.

The primary purpose for SB66 is to restructure DABC after legislative audits last year found it was "incompetently managed."

The bill proposes to replace the current five-member liquor commission with seven members and have the governor appoint the chairman and the agency's executive director. It also calls for an audit division within the department.

The committee approved the bill and it now moves to the Senate floor.

Also Monday, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee gave HB354 a favorable recommendation.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, calls for a committee within the Department of Public Safety to collect data in five areas — over-consumption, over-serving, underage drinking, DUI rates and alcohol-related abuse.

It also would require the DABC to remit money made from its markup on alcohol sales to the State Tax Commission rather than retain it as a department "slush fund."

"This particular bill has nothing to do with the actual sale of alcohol," he said.

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

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