The measure is aimed at easing a chronic shortage of permits that the hospitality industry and the governor have said are adversely affecting economic development. But Jayne Brown, with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the bill should be placed on hold until the state conducts a study to ensure there won't be high concentrations of liquor outlets in neighborhoods.
"We want to make sure we don't have more underage drinking and drunk driving," she said. "This is a public safety issue."
Under current law, each restaurant that wants to serve alcohol must have a liquor permit, tying up dozens of licenses and creating shortages, a problem lawmakers generally have been unwilling to remedy, citing concerns about drunk driving, underage drinking and overconsumption. More than 80 percent of legislators are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members to refrain from drinking alcohol.
At the same time, Utah's changing demographics are putting pressure on the number of available permits. Drinkers in the state are downing nearly a third more liquor than they did six years ago, according to the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. In addition, the population quota system for creating additional licenses does not recognize the millions of tourists who dine in Utah each year.
Last year, Buffalo Wild Wings had to stop construction on some locations when no more licenses were available to accommodate multiple applicants. Even though lawmakers created 90 additional restaurant licenses in July to meet demand, some commercial developers said that without further legislative action, all available licenses could be snapped up by this spring.
The bill does not address creating club or bar licenses, which are in such short supply that 19 applicants are on a waiting list for one available permit.
Bill would free up more liquor permits
Restaurant chains must obtain an alcohol permit for each location. Under SB167 chains could obtain:
Full-service master license • A chain would apply for a single permit, allowing all types of alcohol at each of its eateries.
Limited-service master license • Chains would apply for a single permit to serve wine and beer at all locations.
Fine-dining and bar licenses • These are not covered in the bill. Nineteen applicants are on a waiting list.