Utah liquor commissioners are joining in the call to end state requirements that drinkers in private clubs have to fill out applications and pay membership fees.
"It's really a historical relic, and I can see no reason for it," Commissioner Bobbie Coray said. "It's just an inconvenience. It doesn't discourage drinking. It's just meaningless. So I think we ought to get rid of it."
At next Wednesday's meeting of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, Coray said she will ask commission staff to draft legislation that will allow private clubs to do away with membership requirements.
"I want to get rid of membership requirements when it is simply just an exercise rather than a real membership," she said. "If a club wishes to stay a private club, there will be no change," such as country clubs and fraternal organizations that are not open to the public.
She has the support of Commission Chairman Sam Granato. "I think it's done its purpose," Granato said of the membership system. "We have some great private clubs as we've know them, but I don't know where the private part is anymore."
It will be up to the 2009 Legislature whether to make the change in the state's liquor laws. The change already has been endorsed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and is the subject of an initiative petition drive by the Utah Hospitality Association.
The state's private club owners have filed the necessary paperwork to circulate the initiative petition that would put the issue before voters on the 2010 general election ballot. But Huntsman has said that's not soon enough.
On Thursday, the governor said the private club system is an "obstacle" and warned that liquor laws need to keep moving toward what he termed "greater normalcy" so the state's $6 billion travel and tourism industry can continue to grow.
Last session, Huntsman got lawmakers to go along with increasing the amount of alcohol in most mixed drinks. Before that, he overhauled the five-member liquor commission, appointing Coray, Granato and Park City lawyer Gordon Strachan.
After the governor was elected in 2004, Strachan served on his transition team that reviewed the state's liquor laws. That team's recommendations included eliminating the private club system so the state would, in effect, have bars.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has long opposed what has been called liquor by the drink and counsels its members not to drink, has yet to publicly comment on the proposed change.
Granato, who is LDS, said he doesn't expect any controversy over the change."I don't see it changing anything except making it easier for our tourists. It's confusing," he said. Non-drinkers aren't "going to see a difference. I think it's going to be just fine."
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