December 10 editorial |

December 10 editorial

Private-club issue is too important to be decided on emotion

Can we all agree on this? With its economy struggling, Utah needs to do take every sensible step to promote one of its most important revenue streams tourism.

Gov. Jon Huntsman seems to think so. According to news stories, he is drafting legislation that would eliminate private-club fees.

The present system forces would-be patrons to buy memberships before being admitted to bars that serve mixed drinks. The general manager of the Wasatch Brew Pub recently told The Park Record that about half of his potential customers walk out the door when they find out they must pay the state-mandated membership fee. This system has given Utah a black eye around the country at the same time that the Utah Travel Council is spending millions to convince tourists to visit the state.

According to a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the membership rule dates back to the days following Prohibition when only fraternal organizations and places like country clubs were given liquor licenses.

So why is it still around? We really don’t know.

On issues like liquor control, the LDS Church is often a convenient whipping boy. But this time the church seems to be taking a middle-of-the-road position.

Taking a more strident stance is the Utah Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the group’s president, Art Brown, is lobbying lawmakers and other leaders to keep the current system, saying club fees reduce underage drinking and drunk-driving accidents.

Brown seems to have found an audience. KTVX, Channel 4 in Salt Lake City, reported Monday that the new president of the Utah Senate, Michael Waddoups, will likely fight to keep the private-club system in place. According to the story, Waddoups’ wife was injured several years ago in an accident involving someone driving under the influence.

We’re all in favor of reducing underage drinking and drunk-driving accidents. And we sympathize with Waddoups and his family. But this is much too important an issue to be decided on emotion.

If Mothers Against Drunk Driving has statistics to back up Art Brown’s claims, we’d like to see them. Until then, we remain firmly in the camp of those working to eliminate this archaic private-club system.

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