Another attempt to take down the ‘Zion Curtain’
September 1, 2015
Among the most infamous of Utah’s liquor laws is the separate dispensing area rule, which requires certain restaurants to shield from patrons’ view the mixing of alcoholic drinks, usually behind a wall colloquially known as the "Zion Curtain."
Rep. Kraig Powell, a Republican from Heber City whose district includes Park City, has pushed for reform of that rule for several years. During the 2014 legislative session, he focused on both the intent to dine and separate dispensing rules. Supporters of the status quo expressed frustration with the push to change any liquor laws. Powell dropped the intent to dine reform and pushed only for separate dispensing area changes. His bill narrowly passed out of committee but never made it to the House floor for a full vote.
In the 2015 legislative session, he again focused solely on the separate dispensing area requirement. Again, though, the bill did not receive a full vote on the House floor.
For the 2016 session, Powell is planning to try again. The idea is to allow restaurants subject to the separate dispensing area requirement to create a separate no-minors-allowed bar or lounge area in lieu of creating a wall.
"The dining club already has what I’m proposing," Powell said. "That is, in a dining club, in a separate bar or lounge area, minors are not able to be present.
"And that actually is not that unusual. If you look across the country there are lots of states that have restaurants or clubs or places that serve alcoholic beverages that have a separate bar or lounge area that says ‘No minors allowed.’ So that’s what I’m trying to really focus on, is the fact that we’ve already got this in place now."
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Powell said the dining club model should be preferable to all sides.
"It actually provides greater safety and greater regulation for the types of concerns that people have. For instance, a dining club — they have to electronically ID patrons," he said. "So not only are they certain that they’re not serving underage, but they also have a way to track if there’s an incident or an accident or somebody has some liability."
The one significant difference between a dining club and a restaurant is that only restaurants are subject to the intent to dine rule, which forbids restaurants from serving alcohol to anyone not ordering food.
"But the dining club still has to maintain the 60 percent ratio of food sales to alcohol sales. So I think it’s a good enough security guarantee that they’re going to be serving alcohol responsibly," Powell said.
As an alternative, Powell says he will also introduce a bill to increase the number of club licenses made available by the state. There is a significant state-wide waiting list for the licenses. Last year the state began allowing club licenses to be purchased directly from existing license holders, which has created a secondary market where club licenses have reportedly fetched more than $100,000, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
The legislature should soon be getting over its "liquor law fatigue" and be opening up to the idea of reform, Powell hopes.
"Legislative leadership for many years have said that ‘We just got done with a compromise, a big overhaul of Utah liquor laws,’ and that was getting rid of the membership cards. But that actually was back in 2010, it was proposed in 2009, it finally passed in 2010. the time we get to the next legislative session that’s going to be six years ago — it’s not just yesterday that happened," he said. "And we’ve now created a system where we have still more than half of our restaurants that are on an uneven playing field — they’re not subject to the wall requirement because they’re grandfathered in and any [new] restaurants that want to come in have to comply with the law. We’ve also heard, you know, pretty uniformly across businesses and patrons, that they don’t like the requirement. And so I think eventually that’s going to change."
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