"Reform" was the term most often associated with Utah liquor laws during the 1988 Legislature. Lawmakers then voted to allow minibottle table service and charged a task force with deciding what else needed to be changed.
A year later, just a handful of bills dealing with drinking have been introduced. Only one, which would permit alcohol consumption in limousines and charter buses, is expected to be controversial."Everything's very quiet," said Ken Wynn, director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department, noting that the calm is likely to last until the task force returns with its recommendations - in 1990.
During all the talk of making the state's liquor laws more hospitable to tourists, while giving restaurateurs more control over how much their patrons drink, little was said about when further changes would be considered.
At least some officials with an interest in Utah liquor laws aren't so sure lawmakers were sincere when they formed the Alcoholic Beverage Control Review Task Force and gave it 18 months to come up with recommendations.
Duayne Johnson, a former lawmaker and a member of the state's Citizens' Council on Alcoholic Beverage Control said recently, "When legislators don't want to face an issue, a lot of times that's how they get rid of it."
Johnson was telling fellow members of the citizens' council, which helped push the 1988 "table service" bill, that he has little hope lawmakers will approve additional significant changes.
"It's a polarizing issue," said Rep. Grant Protzman, D-North Ogden. "You're categorized as a liberal promoter of alcoholic beverages or a right-wing prohibitionist."
Protzman, who originally introduced the bills permitting table service and creating the task force, said he is still optimistic the task force will propose further reforms in the state's liquor laws.
"If we miss this opportunity, it'll be a long time before we have another chance," he said, adding he was surprised the task force didn't bring forward at least some suggestions for lawmakers this session to maintain the momentum.
"That would be the political approach," said the co-chairman of the task force, Sen. Richard Carling, R-Salt Lake. "We would rather have well-thought-out changes than merely something to say, `Look what we're doing.' "
Carling said the task force plans to use the full 18 months to look at such issues as customers "brown-bagging" their own liquor into restaurants and beer bars, or switching from minibottles to "metered" pouring of liquor.
The extra time will provide them with an opportunity to reach a consensus among the various segments of the community represented on the task force including government, restaurants, the tourist industry and ordinary citizens.
That, Carling said, will make whatever changes they come up with easier to sell to the Legislature.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, hopes to change the law so the long-standing practice of drinking in the back seats of limousines and on chartered buses can continue. Dmitrich said he is still rounding up support for HB132.