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Renewed challenge to Utah liquor laws no longer mentions LDS Church

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 1:07 p.m. MDT

A Utah state liquor store photographed on Feb. 20, 2012. An amended lawsuit challenging recent changes to Utah liquor laws no longer mentions an alleged conspiracy between state legislators and the LDS Church.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — An amended lawsuit challenging recent changes to Utah liquor laws no longer mentions an alleged conspiracy between state legislators and the LDS Church.

The Utah Hospitality Association initially claimed church representatives warned lawmakers there would be repercussions if they did not approve SB314 during the 2011 Legislature. The association complained that church involvement in crafting the legislation violated the state and federal constitutions. It sought to bar The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from weighing in on political issues.

That argument did not hold sway with U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins. He dismissed the lawsuit after a hearing last month, but gave the hospitality association until Monday to amend the complaint.

At the hearing, assistant attorney general Kyle Kaiser called the law "religiously neutral" and enforceable even "if you believe the LDS Church said there would be consequences" if lawmakers didn't support it. He said it doesn't matter if the law matches religious tenets.

"I just don't know how a court could enjoin legislators from talking to their constituents," he said.

The new lawsuit focuses more sharply on provisions in SB314 that the association and several social club owners find objectionable. The bill prohibits establishments from offering alcoholic drinks at discounted prices and links the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control license quota system to not only population but to the number of state public safety officers.

Lawmakers contend the law is designed to curb excessive drinking and drunken driving.

Hospitality association attorney Lisa Marcy describes the law as "unconstitutionally vague" because it fails to define key words and phrases. It hurts competition and consumers, she said.

"Plaintiffs do not know what 'discount' means; what prices constitute the promotion of 'overconsumption;' who are and how many public safety officers affect the quota system; and whether they can have 'happy days,'" Marcy wrote.

The statute, she said, might actually be forbidding the advertisement of discounted drinks not the discounts themselves.

The law forces social club owners to set prices that can't be changed, causing one owner to lose 40 percent of his income on nights when he previously offered drink specials, according to the lawsuit.

"Their clients instead have chosen to buy intoxicating liquors, wine, and beer from the state-operated liquor and wine stores which are allowed to discount alcoholic beverages," Marcy wrote.

Kaiser has said he doesn't think the law prohibits daily drink specials, but it depends on how they're advertised. Being confusing, he said, doesn't make it unconstitutional.

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

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