Senate moves to beef up fines for underage drinking in Utah

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The Senate moved Monday toward beefing up fines for selling alcohol to underage drinkers, along with numerous other tweaks to liquor laws.

It voted 24-1 to pass SB261, and sent it to the House.

Its sponsor, Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said the state has found that undercover youth who attempt to buy alcohol in Utah bars and restaurants are successful about 30 percent of the time.

"This is a failure of the system," he said. "We have to make sure our restaurants get the message. I think they will get the message very quickly" with the bill.

It sets the mandatory minimum fine for selling alcohol to a minor at $2,500 for a first offense; $5,000 and a five-day suspension for the second; and $15,000 and a 14-day suspension for a third offense in an 18-month period.

Valentine said his bill tries to seek a balance between several recent moves to improve hospitality and the need to ensure that does not increase underage or other illegal use of alcohol.

It would also make several other tweaks to liquor laws, including:

• Adds an attorney to the Attorney General's Office to prosecute alcohol violations.

• Allows small cities to permit a new bar on the location of an old one without waiting three years.

• Permits liquor and beer "flights," tastings of multiple drinks, often with a theme. They were already allowed for wine.

It is just one of several liquor reform bills making its way through the Legislature.