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State lawmaker proposes alternative to alcohol barrier in Utah restaurants

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20 2014 10:45 a.m. MST

A state lawmaker has come up with an alternative to the barriers in Utah restaurants often called the Zion Curtain: a sign warning diners that alcohol is being served. (Shutterstock) A state lawmaker has come up with an alternative to the barriers in Utah restaurants often called the Zion Curtain: a sign warning diners that alcohol is being served. (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker has come up with an alternative to the barriers in Utah restaurants often called the Zion Curtain: a sign warning diners that alcohol is being served.

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, reworked his bill that called for removal of the barrier that separates dining areas from drink mixing and pouring. He proposes that restaurants be able to opt out of using the partition if they post a notice on all entrances and their menus reading: "This establishment dispenses and serves alcoholic products in public view."

Powell said under his bill, HB285, restaurants and their customers would regulate themselves using free market principles.

"Many Utah restaurants may choose to keep the wall in place and not post the required notice based on the preferences of their customers," he said. "Other restaurants will post the notice to avoid the restrictions of the dispensing wall, based again on customer preference.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said the proposal appears to fall outside the scope of the 2009 legislative compromise that created separate preparation areas while eliminating the requirement that bar patrons buy a private club membership to enter a bar.

Powell's substitute bill, which hasn't been assigned to a standing committee, also removes any change to the state's “intent to dine” law, which requires that restaurants, prior to serving patrons alcohol, confirm that they will be ordering food.

Those two state laws have been the subjects of controversy.

The restaurant industry and some state legislators see them 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.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has called the partition "weird" and said there's no evidence that it prevents children from taking up drinking.

But supporters of the current law say such change runs counter to both the spirit and practical application of the Alcohol 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,” according to the law.

Those points were highlighted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a statement last month, saying separate alcohol preparation areas are part of an effective system for protecting against underage drinking, overconsumption and DUIs.

The House last year passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, to remove the alcohol barrier, but it stalled in the Senate.

Wilcox hasn't introduced that bill this session, but unveiled HB376 on Thursday calling for the state to issue an annual report intended to help guide Utah lawmakers' decisions about alcohol laws by July 1.

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