Utah needs to do more to update its liquor laws, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States said Wednesday, calling for an end to "antiquated blue laws" that keep state liquor stores closed on Sunday.
"The state has taken a number of positive steps to modernize its liquor laws, but Prohibition-era blue laws continue to inconvenience Utah consumers," said David Wojnar, vice president of government affairs for the council, based in Washington, D.C.
Utah is one of only five states that prohibits liquor stores from opening on both the Independence Day holiday and Sundays, Wojnar said, hampering consumer access to alcohol over the long holiday weekend.
The industry lobbyists are pushing to end laws banning the sale of liquor on Sundays, one of the so-called colonial-era "blue laws" prohibiting breaking the Sabbath. On July 1, Colorado became the 35th state to allow Sunday sales.
Wojnar praised Utah for what he called a "good first step" to bring the state's liquor laws in line with the rest of the country, a bill passed by the 2008 Legislature to allow restaurants and private clubs to sell alcohol while the polls are open on Election Day.
He also cited the ongoing discussion about eliminating private club membership requirements as an example of Utah's efforts to move ahead with its liquor laws. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has said he wants lawmakers to consider the change next session.
Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said the need for Sunday sales had not been raised with the governor, "but we're always open to concerns that people have about alcohol policy in Utah."
However, Roskelley said the governor has not been approached about the issue.
Getting the Legislature to look at opening liquor stores on Sunday may be tough. Utah is what's known as a control state, and all wine and liquor must be sold through state-operated stores. Only low-alcohol beer is available at supermarkets and other retailers.
Is there any chance the state would look at allowing liquor stores to open on Sunday?
"No," said state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission Chairman Sam Granato. "I'm open to all considerations, but not that one. ... To open on Sundays, I don't see that happening. I don't think that's realistic, because we don't need it."
But Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, who sponsored the change in Election Day sales that passed this year, said now may be the time to consider Sunday sales along with other liquor reforms.
"We're talking about the 2009 legislative session. It's not an election year," McCoy said, adding that Huntsman's interest in making liquor laws more tourist-friendly also helps. "This may actually be the right time to start having some of these discussions."
Still, McCoy said it wouldn't be easy to get Sunday sales legislation passed, "mostly because religion will be brought into that, probably." Most Utah lawmakers like most Utahns belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counsels members to abstain from drinking alcohol.
Wojnar didn't sound too optimistic, either.
"Maybe over the course of time it will happen," he said.
Utah, Wojnar said, is seen as more stringent towards drinking than other states. "I think there's obviously a perception around the country," he said, "that Utah is a very restrictive, conservative jurisdiction when it comes to alcohol."
Thirteen states have lifted Sunday sales prohibitions since 2002, including Massachusetts.
It was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon well-known to Utahns as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, who signed the law ending the Sunday sales ban there.At the time, Romney said abolishing the prohibition was a matter of fairness, not morals. During his unsuccessful bid for the White House, Romney cited his signing the law as demonstrating he did not impose his faith on his constituents.