This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Utah lawmakers passed a potent mix of liquor regulations in 2017, adopting the nation's toughest drunken driving standard and charging consumers more for wine, beer and spirits, while also adding barrier options for Utah restaurants and giving extra money for employee raises and new stores.
In bar-tending terms, it's a cocktail served straight up with a twist.
With the passage of HB155, Utah is poised to become the first state to decide that motorists are driving under the influence when their blood-alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.05. The average man would reach the legal limit with three drinks, the average woman at two. Dropping the limit from the current 0.08 BAC is not intended to increase DUI charges, but rather to encourage individuals who drink to hesitate before getting behind the wheel.
HB442, a 144-page liquor-reform bill, failed to eliminate the 7-foot opaque barrier intended to block children from seeing drinks being mixed, as restaurants had hoped. But it did offer eateries that serve alcohol other options. Restaurants can keep the "Zion Curtain," create a 10-foot buffer from the bar (or edge of the dispensing area) where minors are not allowed, or build a half-wall or railing, at least 42 inches high and five feet from the dispensing area, where minors would not be allowed unless accompanied by an adult.
All restaurants would have to implement one of the options, even older ones that were exempt from the original Zion Curtain mandate because they were serving alcohol before 2009, when it was enacted. While industry leaders have said the measure is not perfect, it does allow time to work out problems.
The legislation does away with the confusing dining club and social club license and creates a single bar license. Dining clubs would have until July 1, 2018, to decide if they want to switch to being bars. If the establishment chooses to be a restaurant, owners would have until July 2022 to comply with the new barriers and dispensing-area rules.
The liquor reform also boosts the state markup on wine and spirits from 86 percent to 88 percent. The markup on heavy beer sold in liquor stores jumps from 64.5 percent to 66.5 percent. The additional income would pay for prevention and training programs in eighth and 10th grades as well as employee-training programs.
The bill also tweaked how close restaurants serving alcohol can be located to churches, schools and parks. New restaurants now can be as close as 300 feet down from the current 600 feet requirement. However, the DABC no longer would be able to grant exceptions. Bars and liquor stores must remain 600 feet from community locations.
It's good news for Salt Lake City's Amour Cafe, which is 350 feet from Liberty Park and plans to apply for a liquor license under the new law, but bad news for churches like the Japanese Church of Christ, whose members do not want bars and restaurants so close to their place of worship without having some sort of say in the process, says Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay.
SB155 would give the DABC an additional $1 million on top of its base budget to fund salary increases for liquor store employees, basic operating costs, updated technology and new warehouse equipment.
Finally, new liquor stores in Farmington and southwestern Salt Lake County were approved, allowing the DABC to start looking for property in those areas.