A possible ban or limit on liquor brown-bagging will be the first issue taken on by a state task force reviewing Utah's liquor laws.
"We've tackled the biggest issue of all first," said Assistant Attorney General Earl Dorius as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Review Task Force decided Wednesday to have a subcommittee present recommendations on the subject at the Oct. 12 meeting.He estimated that deciding what to do about brown-bagging will take at least the first six months of the task force's two-year study assignment.
Several members of the task force expressed concern over the lack of control of alcohol consumption that results from letting customers bring their own bottles into restaurants, beer taverns, private clubs and other establishments.
A staff report by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said that while brown-bagging does a good job of furthering distribution of liquor products, "from a control standpoint it is a hideous concept."
Ken Wynn, director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said brown-bagging makes it more difficult for establishment operators to control consumption by minors or keep out illegal out-of-state liquor, among other things.
The department report indicated that brown-bagging is allowed in at least 16 states, but as a practical matter many of those states have systems that function to discourage the practice. "This is in strong contrast with our system, which actually encourages it."
The report said the encouragement comes from the disparity between liquor availability and the desire of people to consume it - the state licenses fewer than 500 establishments to sell liquor, but cities and counties have granted consumption permits to thousands of places, so those establishments, for economic survival, must encourage brown-bagging.
More than one member predicted that a brown-bagging ban would create tremendous pressure for an increase in the number of state liquor licenses available for restaurants.
Task force member Stanley J. Altman, who is chairman of the Citizens Council on Alcoholic Beverage Control, said he's ready to look at doing away with brown-bagging. But other members said they want to study it more before deciding.
Altman and others agreed that they need feedback as soon as possible from the operators of restaurants and other establishments on how law changes might affect them.
Donald D. Beck, executive director of the Utah Licensed Club Association, said most of the problem with overconsumption resulting from brown-bagging occurs not in private clubs or restaurants, but in beer taverns.
Neil Cohen, a board member of the Utah Restaurant Association, suggested that rather than flatly prohibiting brown-bagging, the task force look at the ways that other states have managed to make it an unattractive alternative for customers.