Leaders debate reality, perception of Utah liquor laws

Published: Saturday, Aug. 3 2013 11:35 p.m. MDT

"Arguing for liquor on the grounds that it increases economic development is promoting and encouraging its sale and consumption," Mero said.

Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said she's glad lawmakers are spending so much time talking about restaurants but they along with clubs and bars serve only 3 to 5 percent of the alcohol consumed in the state. She said the industry isn't the one they should look at to solve problems with underage drinking and DUI.

Convenience stores, grocery stores and the state own liquor outlets sell 95 percent of the alcohol in Utah.

Sine disagrees with those who say liquor policy isn't a business issue, noting that the restaurants employ 90,000 Utahns and serve 2.5 million meals a day.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has wanted to change the city's liquor laws since taking office in 2008. He and the City Council considered a move last year to allow neighborhood bars under certain conditions a step in that direction.

One of the goals, city leaders said, was to make city alcohol laws more business friendly and less restrictive by letting zoning dictate locations for pubs and taverns.

Becker believes state liquor regulations should evolve in a way that provide appropriate public protections while creating an environment conducive to social drinkers, tourists and visitors to the city as well as business development, said his spokesman Art Raymond.

Standard Optical president Stephen Schubach served as co-chairman of a committee of Democratic legislative leaders appointed last year to study the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. It concluded that alcohol is overregulated and should be more not less accessible.

Because the safest place to drink is at home, he said, the state should build more liquor stores to keep people in their own neighborhoods rather than having to drive across town. It would accommodate consumers, while increasing revenue to the state that could be used for DUI or teen drinking prevention education, he said.

Restaurants are the next safest places to drink because food is served with alcohol, Schubach said. Lawmakers should lift the restrictions and other "archaic" regulations as well as make it easier for restaurants to get liquor permits.

"I think there's a perception that if government or the community makes this a little more easily obtainable, that's giving the go-ahead for everyone to be irresponsible is not true," he said.

Schubach said the state's "arcane" liquor regulations aren't good for business such as enticing conventions to the state.

"I think generally it has not helped at all to have these rules in place. I think we would attract bigger and better conventions if we were more amenable to the conventioneer," he said.

Guinney, whose restaurants serve but don't display alcohol, said the negative impact Utah's liquors have on economic development are overstated. But he said the intent-to-dine rule could hurt convention business.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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