SALT LAKE CITY — A restaurant server's refusal to serve alcohol to a 38-year-old New Zealand man because he didn't have his passport offended him and embarrassed his Utah host during a recent lunch.
Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, said that incident led her to sponsor a bill allowing foreign nationals to use forms of government-issue identification other than passports to buy alcohol in the state. The ID, such as a driver's license, must include a photo and date of birth.
State law requires foreign visitors to show their passports to buy alcohol in restaurants, bars and state-run liquor stores.
"It would treat our international guests … the same way we treat people in the U.S.," Poulson told the House Business and Labor Committee.
HB107 was among several alcohol-related bills the panel considered Wednesday. Another measure, HB149, would create a fund for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to acquire land for future liquor stores.
Poulson said it's "hypocritical" to make foreign visitors carry their passports when the State Department advises Americans traveling abroad not to have the document on their person.
"This seems like such a no-brainer to me," said Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan. "We don’t care where people are from. We care how old they are."
But DABC Executive Director Sal Petilos said the proposal could give rise to fake foreign IDs, as well as make it difficult for restaurants and liquor stores to determine if drivers' licenses, especially those in languages such as Chinese or Russian, are valid.
"We would have to understand exactly what those licenses are saying," he said, noting there are 195 countries in the world.
Restaurants and bars typically request ID from customers who appear under age 35, and some use scanners to verify the document.
Proponents of the bill said Utah needs to be welcoming to foreign visitors as it promotes the state's national parks and looks to host the Winter Olympics again.
Des Barker, a lobbyist for the Utah tourism industry and Ski Utah, told the committee the state needs to avoid "awkward moments" the current law could create for travelers.
"We want to be seen as accommodating, not off-putting to them," he said.
Committee members seemed to agree that a change in the law might be needed but voted to hold the bill for retooling.
The committee also unanimously approved a measure that would shift $7.5 million to DABC from the general fund for the purchase or lease of land for future liquor stores.3 comments on this story
HB149 sponsor Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said the plan would save taxpayer dollars to buy property now rather than later as land costs go up. He said the state went seven years without building a new store, causing a backup in the number of outlets that could be built.
A Zions Public Finance Inc. study in 2016 identified 12 locations for new stores stretching from Pleasant Grove to Ogden.
DABC runs 44 liquor and wine stores and more than 100 smaller outlets called package agencies or contract stores.