Utah's bar owners have filed an initiative petition that would do away with the state's private club laws.

The initiative petition, filed with the state on Thursday by the Utah Hospitality Association, would put the issue of private club requirements before voters in the 2010 general election if enough signatures can be gathered statewide within the next 12 months. The private club law require patrons to fill out an application and pay a membership fee before they can have a drink.

That isn't soon enough, though, for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

"The governor has advocated getting rid of the private club designation for a long time ,so he thinks it would be more expedited to do it through legislation rather than until 2010," Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said Friday.

Like a majority of state legislators, Huntsman is a Republican and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which forbids alcohol consumption. But the governor has long called for changes in the state's liquor laws to make Utah more tourist-friendly.

"He thinks it would be beneficial to the tourism industry and the economy of the state to get rid of this confusing designation," Roskelley said. That could happen as soon as the 2009 Legislature, she said.

The LDS Church would be among the organizations contacted about any change to the law, Roskelley said.

"Whenever we're talking about any issue, we talk to all stakeholders," she said.

The LDS Church has opposed the state allowing liquor by the drink.

Last session, lawmakers went along with a proposal from the governor to boost the amount of alcohol in most mixed drinks. The legislation also eliminated most sidecars, or extra shots of alcohol, and will move flavored malt beverages from grocers shelves to state liquor stores.

Lisa Marcy McGarry, the lawyer who filed the initiative petition, is a member of the hospitality association's board. She said changing the law will benefit all Utahns, even those who don't drink.

"I wouldn't say the advantage is for the association," she said. "It's more of an advantage for the community, the tourists — all of us. ... By it's very nature, the name hospitality implies this industry is all about welcoming people."

The signature gathering process will not start until state officials have reviewed and approved the petition.


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