A new statement on alcohol by the LDS Church is being seen as encouraging by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and others backing a major change in the state's liquor laws.

While the seven paragraph statement posted on the newsroom section of the church's Web site doesn't specifically mention that change — eliminating private club membership requirements — it does suggest there can be agreement on "laws and regulations that allow individual freedom of choice. ... "

The statement goes on to say that such laws and regulations must also preserve "Utah's proven positive health and safety record on limiting the tragic consequences of overconsumption of alcohol."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints counsels its members to avoid alcohol but in the statement acknowledges "alcoholic beverages are available to the public" and that it "has always called for reasonable regulations" to limit overconsumption, reduce drunken driving and working to eliminate underage drinking.

The governor announced earlier this year he wanted lawmakers to make the state more tourist friendly by doing away with the applications and fees required to drink in private clubs, which are similar to bars.

An initiative petition drive launched by the hospitality association, which represents the private club industry, has been put on hold. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is currently drafting a proposal expected to go before the 2009 Legislature.

"This is huge. This is what everyone was waiting for," said Lisa Marcy McGarry, legal counsel for the Utah Hospitality Association. "A large majority of our Legislature is going to listen to the words of advice given by the LDS Church."

Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said Tuesday she was "encouraged by the willingness of all stakeholders to engage in this process," including the LDS Church.

"Certainly, it's good to know that this organization is open to the potential changes that are being looked at," Roskelley said, adding she had not been aware of the statement posted Monday. "This is a great thing."

The head of the liquor commission, Sam Granato, also called the statement encouraging.

"That's quite a statement," Granato said. "I would think through proper education and good communications we can achieve a goal that works for everyone. That's how I read it. ... I think it's a healthy step."

Granato said the commission decided to slow down the drafting process to make sure nothing is being overlooked. A Sept. 29 public hearing has been set to give Utahns a chance to raise other liquor-related topics they believe lawmakers should consider.

"We wanted more time. We were moving a little quickly," Granato said. "I don't think anybody's in a rush. We want to do it right."

Statement from lds.org

E-mail: [email protected]