- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - After a Utah Oktoberfest celebration faced the possibility of becoming a beer-free event last year, Utah’s liquor board on Tuesday began considering a more flexible approach to granting alcohol permits for events.

Members of Utah’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission discussed a proposal that would streamline permit rules and now allow event organizers to appeal a denied permit.

Commissioners plan to review the proposal and make changes before taking a final vote in a month or two.

David Gladwell, the chairman of the alcohol commission, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the three-page proposal includes much more general language than the current 12-page regulations.

He said the new proposal would allow regulators to take a holistic look at an event rather than get bogged in current definitions and rules.

“It backed us into corners,” Gladwell said. “We couldn’t be flexible in looking at events.”

Last summer, state liquor commissioners cited a stricter interpretation of state rules when they considered withholding the permit for Snowbird Ski Resort’s Oktoberfest.

Commissioners said the single-event permits appeared to be designed for events that benefit the community and are put on by nonprofits and charitable organizations, rather than for-profit businesses such as Snowbird.

The rule hadn’t changed recently, but commissioners said they were “tightening up” oversight of the permits.

The board ultimately backed away from that approach and granted the permit, calling the long-running German festival “a valuable community event.”

Gladwell said Tuesday that the commission’s main concern about events is whether organizers are taking steps to prevent underage drinking or overconsumption of alcohol.

He said he believed the idea of an Oktoberfest without beer was “kind of a press-created controversy” and the commission was “just starting this discussion” last year about reviewing their rules.

“We never would have not granted the Oktoberfest permit,” Gladwell said Tuesday.

Legislators and other critics said the possibility of a beer-free Oktoberfest hurt the state’s image.

Supporters said the event isn’t just about beer, but celebrates food, folk dancing and other activities.

Earlier this year, Utah lawmakers considered a bill that aimed to prevent a similar controversy, but the measure died in the Legislature.

The bill from Republican Rep. Curt Oda would have required regulators to grant a special event permit for any festival that meets the requirements. Oda said it would prevent any arbitrary denials.

The Oktoberfest controversy was the latest flare-up over Utah’s unique liquor laws. The alcohol control department was criticized last year for citing restaurants that served alcohol to customers without first making sure they intended to stay and eat.

The state rolled back some of the strictest liquor laws in 2009, when Utah stopped requiring bars to operate as members-only social clubs. State officials opted not to relax any more laws this year after Mormon church leaders said the regulations keep people

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