Utah legislators not likely to remove barrier shielding liquor dispensing this year
SALT LAKE CITY — A Republican state lawmaker is making another run at taking down the barrier in restaurants designed to shield diners from liquor dispensing often called the "Zion Curtain."
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, proposes allowing restaurants to have a lounge or bar and post a "conspicuous" sign reading, "Notice: This establishment prepares and dispenses alcoholic products in public view," in place of the 7-foot wall. The lounge would be off-limits to minors.
Powell said he sees the proposal as a compromise with some of the competing voices on the issue to shield young people from alcohol and provide drinkers a more hospitable restaurant experience.
He first came up with the idea two years ago, but it hasn't gained any traction in the Legislature.
"I think that over time this issue is going to be changed. There's a lot of discussion about different options," Powell said.
But, he said, this might not be the year.
"I don't know right now if it's going to be able to move through the Legislature. I'm crossing my fingers," Powell said.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the Senate's point person on liquor laws, said it's a complicated issue involving licensing and grandfather clauses that he doesn't think the Legislature would work through this session.
Restaurants opened before 2009 are exempt from having separate preparation areas for alcohol and food.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, isn't hip on Powell's bill and said he's thinking of running his own legislation.
"This is clearly something the people of Utah have spoken out about. They don't like it," Dabakis said. "It's just a relic of an old time, and it needs to be dealt with."
The restaurant industry and some state legislators see the barrier as unnecessary and having no effect on reducing underage drinking, overconsumption and driving under the influence of alcohol. Restaurateurs also say the laws hinder economic development and tourism.
But supporters of the current law say such change runs counter to both the spirit and practical application of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, the Utah state code that is required to look out for the public interest of both those who drink alcohol and those "who do not wish to be involved with alcoholic products."
The act's public safety concern requires the state to "promote the reduction of the harmful effects of: excess consumption of alcoholic products by adults; and consumption of alcoholic products by minors."
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