Lawmakers tinker with liquor laws
February 29, 2008
After passing the Senate 23-6, Sen. Curtis Bramble’s Senate Bill 211, may considerably alter Utah’s unique liquor laws.
Many bar owners and owners of convenience stores and grocery stores in town are wondering what this new law could mean for business in Park City.
Bramble’s bill proposes to eliminate "sidecars," the term for a one-ounce shot of alcohol restaurant diners can pour into a drink. It also seeks to remove malt beverages, including flavored alcoholic drinks, like Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Zimas, from grocery store shelves and move them to State Liquor Stores.
The bill also seeks to increase the number of limited-use liquor licenses for restaurants, which could be good news for new businesses and restaurants that move into town.
Park City Top Stop Manager Joe Pratt said he thinks the part of the bill that proposes to remove malt drinks, or "alcopops," from convenient stores is pointless.
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"It’s a scam," he said of SB 211. "It’s the liquor stores [attempting] to take away our business."
As manager of a convenient store in Park City, Pratt said he does not think this bill will decrease the rate of illegal drinking among teens, which is what Bramble says is the motive behind his bill. Pratt said his clerks are fully trained to ID each customer that purchases alcohol in the store, including all spirits.
"It makes no difference," he said. "They say [the bill] has to do with preventing minors from being able to buy it. That is absolutely not true. We scan it and it automatically comes up as ‘beer’ on the register."
However, Sharon Mackay, public information officer for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (UDABC) Commission, said most of the commissioners believe Bramble’s bill will safeguard against illegal purchases of alcohol by minors.
"When they voted on it in November, it was a three to two vote," Mackay said of the UDABC Commission. "Three were in favor of sending it to the Legislature."
Mackay said the two commissioners that were not in favor of the bill, had hang-ups similar to Pratt’s.
"One of the commissioners’ resistance was that she felt beverages that have not more than 2.5 percent [alcohol] whether or not they are spirits should still be handled as beer," Mackay said. "The other commissioner said he wasn’t in favor of [the commission approving the bill]."
Mackay also mentioned the commission has heard many citizens complain about SB 211.
"A lot of citizens are against this," she admits.
Still, she said, the main intent of the bill is to prevent minors from purchasing alcohol at grocery stores or convenient stores.
"Our commission is very much in favor of getting alcoholic beverages out of the hands of minors," she said. "[Malt beverages] have fruit flavors and flavors that young people like. This is just one step to try to keep alcoholic beverages [away] from minors."
Parkite Dave Illi, originally from Florida, said he thinks Utah’s liquor laws are out of step compared to other states and agrees with Pratt that SB 211 does not make sense.
"I’m a Florida transplant, and you can get eight percent alcoholic drinks at all the 7-Eleven’s there," Illi said.
Heber resident Susan Burgener said taking malt beverages out of grocery stores will make shopping more inconvenient for locals.
"I think if someone wants to buy [beer or] alcoholic beverages at the grocery store, they should be able to," Burgener said. "A lot of times, I don’t want to go to two places. It’s just an extra step."
She suggests that grocery store owners properly train their clerks to check IDs, and then teens will not be able to purchase malt drinks.
"They need to teach their clerks to ID," she said.
Another part of SB 211 that has created controversy with Governor Jon Huntsman, is the "sidecar" drink law currently enforced at all restaurants in the state.
Utah law prohibits customers from purchasing double shots of alcohol and the maximum amount of liquor allowed in cocktails is 2.5 ounces.
Bramble’s bill aims to eliminate sidecars and prohibit serving shots of the same liquor in a customer’s drink. The bill proposes to increase the amount of liquor in a cocktail to 1.5 ounces, instead of one ounce, but with only an additional one-ounce of flavoring of liquor, a decrease from the original 1.75 ounces that has been previously allowed.
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Huntsman disagrees with this portion of the bill, and has been on a mission to line-up Utah’s liquor laws with those of other states, in order to keep a positive image of the state to outsiders. He is hoping to increase the size of the standard shot by 50 percent, the Associated Press reports.
While Bramble and other sponsors of the bill, including Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, are trying to come to a compromise with the governor, it appears the provisions stated in the original bill have won approval from many legislators thus far, as SB 211 recently passed the Senate and is on its way to the House.
More liquor licenses
Another part of the bill that may seem like a positive move for restaurants and new establishments moving into the state is the proposal to increase the number of limited-service liquor licenses.
Limited-use liquor licenses are issued for the storage, sale, service and consumption of wine, heavy beer and beer on the premises of a restaurant that serves meals to the general public, the UDABC Website states. Patrons may only purchase alcoholic beverages in conjunction with an order for food that is sold and prepared at a restaurant and limited restaurant licensees may sell wine, and heavy beer from 12 noon to midnight and beer sales are from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., the Web site explains.
Neil Cohen, compliance and licensing specialist for the UDABC, explained the state has a quota for issuing limited and full-use liquor licenses per population. The current total number of limited-service licenses allowed by Utah law in one per 13,000 people in the state.
Limited-service liquor licenses are the most popular in the state and Cohen said they are running out fast. Bramble’s bill proposes to increase the number of limited-use liquor licenses so that more businesses that can apply for them.
"The commission has issued 242, there are seven left," Cohen said of the number of limited-use licenses left in the state. "[The commission] wants to increase the number of available licenses to give them out and allow for some growth."
Mackay said the commission is "very much in favor" of this portion of the bill and said all the commissioners would like to see it pass.
"One of the things they support most in the bill is to change the quota that would give us more limited service licenses for restaurants," she said.
Mackay said, regardless of how the public or local businesses view the proposals outlined in the bill, including eliminating malt beverages from grocery stores and adjusting the "sidecar" liquor laws, the commission is confident the bill will pass.
"It’s in the house right now," Mackay said. "As it stands right now, it looks like it will probably [pass]."
When asked if other states are proposing similar legislation, Mackay said "yes."
"In the near future, we’ll see other states go in this direction, as well," she said. "The time has come, really."
For more information about Utah’s liquor laws or liquor licenses, visit http://www.alcbev.state.ut.us/index.html .
For more information about SB 211 or Bramble’s legislation, visit http://www.le.state.ut.us.