SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to make more liquor licenses available for dining clubs received a cool reception from a Utah House committee on Friday.

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, wants the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to convert 25 reception center licenses to dining club licenses, which are in much greater demand.

DABC currently has eight pending applications for dining club licenses with a wait time of two to three years, he said.

Dining clubs in Utah are similar to restaurants, but minors must be accompanied by an adult 21 years old or older. Food-to-alcohol sales in clubs must be 60/40, while the split in restaurants is 70/30, according to state law. Dining clubs are not required to have the marketing barriers, often refered to as the "Zion Curtain" shielding patrons from drink pouring and mixing.

Froerer sees it as an economic development issue. The wait time for dining club licenses stymies business growth, he said. His bill, HB338, reallocates existing liquor licenses and would not increase the number of permits available in the state.

But some members of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee wondered if having more dining clubs would lead to more alcohol consumption and exposure to children.

"It's an accommodation," Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan, said of the state's stance on alcohol. "It's not something I want to encourage."

Utah has the lowest number of alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita in the country. It has the lowest prevalence of binge drinking among those 18 and older. Underage drinking rates are half the national average.

"I like our statistics. If it's going to bend them in the wrong direction, I'd rather not do it," Tanner said.

Derek Monson, Sutherland Institute director of policy, said Froerer's bill is unnecessary because the demand for alcohol in Utah is already well provided for. More dining club licenses, he said, would undermine the state's goals to curb over consumption and underage drinking.

Afterward, Froerer said the committee's discussion moved away from the intent of the bill.

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"They were talking about alcohol policy. I was talking about licenses," he said.

Froerer ran the same bill last year, which passed the House but died in the Senate.

On Friday, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted to hold the measure for more study.

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