- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s liquor board is finalizing more flexible rules for granting permits after receiving intense criticism last year when the board considered denying a permit to an annual Oktoberfest celebration.

Members of Utah’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on Tuesday received a draft of new permit rules for special events, but the panel decided to hold off on voting because only four of the seven commissioners attended the meeting. Commissioners said they expect they’ll vote on it at their June meeting, which would then allow members of the public to comment on the proposal.

The proposal includes more general rules about whether an event is eligible for a permit and allows event organizers to appeal a denied permit.

In addition to receiving the draft rules, state liquor commissioners on Tuesday avoided a repeat of the Oktoberfest controversy by approving a special event permit for an art museum gala that was flagged by liquor regulators.

Staff at the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control asked the commission to review the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art’s application because the June event was billed as a buffet-style event where it appeared guests might mingle while consuming unlimited alcohol drinks. Nina McDermott, the compliance director, said that could violate a state law that only allows unlimited alcohol at events where guests are seated and served food.

“It just seems like a different animal with what we typically would grant this kind of a permit for,” Commissioner John T. Nielsen said.

McDermott said “the big concern here is making sure that it is, in fact, a seated event and not a situation where the entire event is them mingling.” She said it did appear the museum would offer seats to guests once they retrieved food from buffet stations.

Commissioners said the event appeared to comply with the law and granted the permit.

Chrissy Upton, development manager of the Museum of Contemporary Art, later told The Associated Press that there seemed to be some confusion but guests at the gala would be able to sit and eat their meal.

Upton said she had no opinion on the rule about guests being seated or mingling, but she said the museum wants to ensure it follows the law.

Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis, of Salt Lake City, one of the lawmakers critical of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission over the Oktoberfest issue, said Tuesday that it a problem that liquor officials had to debate the issue.

“This is an example of the ridiculousness portion of our state liquor laws,” Dabakis said. “It subjects us to ridicule. It hurts us in economic development and tourism, and most importantly, there’s absolutely no public safety interest in a lot of these goofy regulations.”

Last summer, state liquor commissioners waffled about granting a permit for Snowbird Ski Resort’s Oktoberfest, saying 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 board ultimately backed away from that approach and granted the permit, calling the long-running German festival “a valuable community event.”

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 safe.


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