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The Utah Legislature has passed reforms to the state liquor laws that will make more licenses available for bars, eliminate daily drink specials and beef up enforcement.
"This bill is not anyone's 'perfect,' but it is the compromise bill that everyone has come around to support," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
SB314 would transfer 40 tavern licenses where establishments can only serve beer to restaurant alcohol licenses. Restaurant chains had complained since last year that the state had reached its cap for liquor licenses and they wouldn't open establishments without one.
"Alcohol consumption in restaurants makes more sense than bars and taverns," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, the bill's sponsor.
The bill doesn't change the existing number of full bar licenses. All liquor licenses are tied to the state's population, but a faulty formula led to too many licenses being issued. Because of that, Valentine said a new bar license would likely not be issued until the population catches up, which will take some time.
The bill on Wednesday passed the House 69-4 and Senate 28-1 and is headed to Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration.
The measure clarifies that drink specials a discounted drink of the day or an all-you-can-drink special are illegal, a provision that Valentine has said should already have been clear under Utah law. It also gives the governor the power to appoint the chairman of the state liquor commission and imposes conflict of interest standards for members of the commission.
It bans mini-kegs, which some local brewers have begun selling, requires that the state maintain at least one enforcement officer for every 52 licensed bars, clubs or restaurants and increases fees for liquor licenses to fund the enforcement.
Dining clubs those establishments where someone can order a drink without a meal must begin getting at least 60 percent of their total sales from food, an increase of 10 percent.
There are a number of other housekeeping measures requiring taverns to electronically verify a patron's age, clarifying the warning signs that retailers are required to post, and allowing a hotel patron to order one drink at a time.