- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - One of Utah’s most notable liquor laws is again sparking friction in the state Legislature.

A renewed effort to take down restaurant walls that shield diners’ eyes from the shaking and stirring of drinks comes from one of the state’s Republican lawmakers.

“It’s unkind, it’s ineffective and it’s costly,” bill sponsor Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, told a committee Tuesday.

The measure squeaked out of the committee meeting Tuesday by an 8-7 vote after testimony from about a dozen voices, some intensifying to a near yell and others continuing to speak after lawmakers silenced their microphones. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

The measure surfaces as Mormon church leaders this year ask legislators to leave alone the state’s liquor code. And other lawmakers have said in recent weeks that standing laws are sufficient.

Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, agreed. “To me this seems like a solution looking for a problem,” he said.

A similar bill died late last year after critics said the rule likely limits drunken driving and underage drinking.

Those in favor of Powell’s proposal say the state invites visitors to its ski slopes and vast canyons, only to make them feel alien by skirting out of sight to pour their drinks.

And current law mandates that only some restaurants need to put up the so-called Zion curtains, so some say the patchwork rule is unfair.

But others contend that the 2010 rule, which went up in a compromise between lawmakers, does important work by keeping restaurants from feeling like bars, and preventing children and teens from eyeing alcoholic drinks.

The current rule warns children that liquor deserves different treatment than soda and juices, said Laura Bunker of United Families International.

“It shields them from the glamour of bartending,” she said.

Gordon Lindsay, a professor of public health at Brigham Young University, said tearing down the walls could convince young adults that drinking is the norm.

“Anybody who says that the way we sell our products is not part of the equation is an idiot, or they’re working for the industry,” he said.

As legislators reconvened at the Capitol in January, the Mormon church on its website defended the state’s current liquor laws in a multimedia bulletin that include a 10-minute video.

Story Continues →