SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers stood pat on liquor laws this year, though there was some talk of removing the marketing restrictions in Utah restaurants often refered to as the Zion Curtain.
Several alcohol-related bills didn't go anywhere during the 45-day legislative session that ended Thursday. House members were willing to push some changes, but the majority Republicans in the Senate staked out a hard line from the outset.
The Senate GOP caucus took a position to "stop and take a breath" to see the effects of changes made the past few years, said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem.
On the same day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement, saying Utah's laws provide reasonable controls over alcohol and effective safeguards.
"We think we've struck in Utah a good balance between the reasonable availability of alcohol and limiting these negative consequences and social costs," Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a 10-minute video released with the statement.
Valentine called it a "total coincidence. I had no idea it was coming out."
But those positions — taken six days before the session started — effectively held alcohol-related bills in check.
The Legislature passed sweeping reform in 2009 that did away with private club memberships and plastic partitions in bars. In exchange, it required restaurants to separate alcohol pouring and mixing from food areas, which has become known as the Zion Curtain.
"The Senate felt it was really important to keep the dividing line between" bars and restaurants, Valentine said.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, ran a bill to remove the barrier but later modified it to allow restaurants the option to post signs at entrances and on menus reading: "Notice: This establishment prepares and dispenses alcoholic products in public view."
The measure narrowly cleared a House committee but wasn’t debated on the floor. He said he thinks he had the votes in the House to pass the bill, as a similar one did last year.
Powell called the church's statement on alcohol persuasive and effective and said it influenced some legislators. He intends to try again next year because he said there's no evidence that the barriers curb underage drinking.
Utah teenagers drink at much lower levels than their counterparts in other parts of the country, and drunken driving fatalities are also comparatively low in Utah.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has described the barriers as "weird" but said it was an issue that couldn’t be worked out this year with the Senate.
"You win some and you lose some. And you live to fight another day," she said. "I think the issue will continue to move forward and there will continue to be discussion about it."
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, didn't get his bills out of committee.
One proposed to treat alcohol distilleries in Utah the same as wineries and breweries. Members of the House Business and Labor Committee didn't want to expand a state law governing those outlets because they say it's confusing and flawed.
Froerer also wanted the state to convert 25 reception center licenses to dining club licenses, which are in greater demand. Dining clubs are like restaurants except that they can serve a greater ratio of alcohol to food.
The Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, to move up the due date for the annual state alcohol report to make it more useful for lawmakers in making policy decisions.
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