Utah lawmakers vote to add 90 new restaurant liquor licenses

Published: Wednesday, June 20 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

In the House, the bill was approved 57-10 after about 30 minutes of debate, including a failed attempt to strip out the license fee increase. Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, said he was trying to protect restaurants struggling to stay open.

"We are asking them to pay more money just so we can provide additional competition for them," Cox said.

Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said liquor laws should not be tied to economic development. "The purpose of our alcohol policy cannot just be to attract restaurants to our state," he said.

Another House member, Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, questioned why it was necessary to put the law allowing licenses to be privately sold on hold for a year rather than allowing the free market to determine their worth.

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said under the current situation, the price for licenses would be artificially high. He said in New Jersey, the price tag for a liquor license is $3 million.

"What we have now is an opportunity to have a total free-for-all or what I call a train wreck," Froerer told members of the House GOP caucus. 

While the change to the state's liquor law, seldom done in a special session, was the focus of attention Wednesday, lawmakers also made technical fixes to bills passed last session and dealt with a $25 million shortfall in education funding.

They also voted to take a non-binding question off the November ballot about support for a tax increase for the arts, parks and recreation. Supporters of the ZAP tax question said it was being confused with other issues, including a $140 million park bond issue in Salt Lake County.

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