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New alternative offered to Utah's 'Zion Curtain' liquor law: 'Washington state wall'

Published February 28, 2017 11:01 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lawmakers are now offering a third-alternative to the "Zion Curtain" — the 7-foot opaque barrier in restaurants to prevent children from seeing drinks mixed — and the "Zion Moat" proposed substitute, a 10-foot buffer from bars where children are banned.

House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, calls the new option "the Washington state wall" because "it's exactly what Washington state does." He says it's a compromise that may solve the biggest concerns with the 144-page alcohol reform bill, HB442, he is sponsoring.

The new alternative isn't exactly a wall.



"It could be a railing. It could be some kind of planters. But it is something that is five to six feet away from the bar structure. It separates the dining space from the bar space. And it has to be 42 inches high," Wilson said.

That is among several changes in HB442 developed in the past day or so that will officially be unveiled Wednesday at a hearing before the House Business and Labor Committee at 8 a.m. in room 445 at the State Capitol.

Wilson said the alternative is designed to make compliance with the new legislation easier for some older restaurants. Those in business before the Zion Curtain mandate was enacted were not forced to build a barrier because they were grandfathered under older rules.

His initial plan for a Zion Curtain alternative was a 10-foot buffer area where children are not allowed. That didn't sit well with smaller establishments, where such a buffer might keep large sections off-limits to families with children — or force expensive remodeling to install a Zion Curtain.

Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association (SLARA), sent an email to members Tuesday saying there were several items in the bill "that would too greatly hinder the restaurant community."

"We want to be forthcoming to you: if SLARA can not reach an acceptable agreement in the final bill, we feel keeping the Zion Curtain may be the best option for the time being," Corigliano told members.

Wilson said the "Washington State wall" could be less expensive and more attractive than a Zion Curtain or buffer zone.

"It's just to define the space: what's the bar space, and what's the dining space. There are a number of states that have something like that. But we specifically lifted and copied Washington state" statutes, he said.

A day earlier Wilson said he was offended by the nickname "Zion Moat" given by some to the 10-foot minor free buffer zone.

One benefit of HB442, Wilson added, is that within five years, it will force all alcohol-serving restaurants to follow the same rules.

"Right now we have a Wild West of rules among restaurants," he said. Regular restaurants, grandfathered restaurants and dining clubs face different rules.

Licenses for dining clubs — with no barriers because youth are not allowed — would disappear under the bill, and they must become either bars or restaurants.

"We are going to give grandfathered restaurants and dining clubs time to transition to that [standard] arrangement over five years, or a remodel, or a change of ownership, whichever of those three occurs first," Wilson said.

He mentioned a few other tweaks coming to the bill.

For example, it had required time-stamped tabs for every drink. Wilson said the idea behind that was to help servers keep track of how much they served, and when, to help prevent overconsumption. But Wilson said that will likely be pulled because technology doesn't easily allow that.

Also, a change is coming to allow grocery or convenience stores to have two areas, instead of one as originally proposed, where they may offer beer or other low-alcohol content beverages.

The bill has some other interesting provisions currently buried within its 144 pages.

For example, it bans carts that show samples of drinks that may be served. Wilson said that technically already is banned, but the bill clarifies it. Utah law does not allow pre-preparation of drinks, he said, and they must be ordered first.

It also bans drinking while standing — patrons must be seated. "That's the same as it is in code now, we're clarifying that," Wilson said. "Part of the seated part [requirement] is to clarify what you can and cannot see from different areas" such as not seeing over a Zion Curtain if one is seated.

Other provisions already in the bill include boosting the state markup on liquor by 2 percentage points, from 86 percent to 88 percent. The markup on heavy beer sold in liquor stores would go up from 64.5 percent to 66.5 percent.

Wilson has said that increase would pay for other drinking prevention and training programs in the bill.

For example, it calls for new prevention programs for youths in eighth and 10th grades.

It also calls for training programs for owners and managers of bars and restaurants, and employees who are caught selling to underage youths. It would also create a program to better track each violation of a sale to a minor.

Even while the fate of the bill remains uncertain, it is having some impact on the industry. The state liquor commission postponed a handful of liquor license decisions on Tuesday, saying it would be better to wait and see what happened with HB442.

"The legislation could make substantial changes in how we designate clubs and dining clubs so we have decided to defer any decisions," John T. Nielsen, liquor commission chairman, said during the board's monthly meeting. Its next meeting is March 28, more than two weeks after the 2017 Legislature ends.

Currently eight businesses are on the waiting list for a club license.

— Reporter Kathy Stephenson contributed to this report.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

 

 

 

 

 

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