SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers and Utah restaurateurs continue to work through legislation that would allow restaurants to remove the so-called “Zion Curtain” that shields customers from alcohol pouring and mixing.
While House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said "we seem to have an agreement" with the Utah Restaurant Association and the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, they're not all on the same page.
The terms of the bill have yet to be made public. Wilson, the chief sponsor, said it should be ready over the weekend or Monday.
Under the proposal, restaurants could get rid of the 7-foot-high barrier that separates patrons from alcohol dispensing and storage but would have to maintain a 10-foot buffer between the area and where children are seated, he said.
People sitting within that 10-foot area would be subject to electronic age verification, which the state already does in bars, Wilson said.
Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said she supports the proposal.
"We're going to have the wall go away and eliminate that continual controversial liquor legislation that always has people poking fun at the state of Utah," Sine said.
Everyone is giving up a little bit to make it work, she said.
Sine said she hasn't seen the final bill, and when it comes, there "will be a little pain to be experienced by all," but it should be short-lived as people begin to operate under the new legislation.
The Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, however, isn't on board right now. It expects a "ton of dialog" over the weekend, said Lincoln Shurtz, a lobbyist for the organization.
"We're continuing to negotiate. Conceptually we're moving in the right direction, but we're by no means there yet," he said.
About 400 restaurants that were grandfathered in under the current law aren't required to have a separate alcohol preparation area. But the legislation would require them to put up the barrier or install the 10-foot buffer zone, Shurtz said.
"If you're one of those 400 grandfathered restaurants, that's giving you some pause," he said.
Wilson unveiled the proposal early in the legislative session and said he and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, have met with 18 to 20 groups interested in the bill. He said the now 120-page bill does a lot more than do away with the liquor shield.
"There's a lot of moving parts to the bill. It's been a lot of work because we're dealing with not just restaurants, not just bars. We're dealing with grocery stores and convenience stores. We're dealing with educating youth," he said.
The governor's office has not reviewed the legislation but is optimistic something good will come from the process, said Paul Edwards, Gov. Gary Herbert's deputy chief of staff.
"Assuming it meets the governor's concerns about being an evidenced-based approach that helps to promote increased public safety and helps to reduce underage drinking as compensating factors, we are supportive of this general effort," Edwards said.
Wilson said the legislation includes measures to reduce drunken driving and prevent underage drinking.
The bill calls for additional education in schools and more training for people who work in bars, restaurants and grocery and convenience stores. It also requires retailers to keep alcohol in a distinct location to keep it from mingling with other products, he said.
The bill also aims to simplify the state's liquor permit system managed by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
For example, it would do away with a "dining club" license. Utah has approximately 100 dining clubs, which are allowed to serve less food and more alcohol than restaurants. They would have to decide whether to be bars or restaurants, Wilson said.
"That area is still probably one of the parts that's a little trickier for some folks, but from a policy standpoint is what I think makes the most sense," he said.
Shurtz said working through the nuances of that is still a matter of discussion.
"It's not that we're not going to get there, I just think we're at the point that we're still working through some of those details to make sure it's going to work with our guys," he said. "We think we can find a place. We're not there yet."