- Associated Press - Thursday, March 2, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Gov. Gary Herbert says there’s no evidence that children are any more likely to drink alcohol if they see alcoholic drinks being prepared in restaurants.

Utah requires that some restaurants mix and pour alcoholic drinks behind a barrier, with proponents contending that it helps curb underage drinking by shielding minors from the “culture of alcohol.”

Herbert has previously said it’s unclear if the barriers are effective, but he went a step further Thursday, saying at a news conference that “they’re maybe just there for perception and don’t really have any basis in reality.”

Highlights from Herbert’s Thursday news conference:

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ZION CURTAIN

Alcohol barriers, nicknamed “Zion Curtains” as a reference to the teetotalling Mormon Church, have long been a subject of debate in Utah and legislators are considering letting restaurants take them down if they instead install a child-free buffer zone. The Republican governor supports that effort because it gives restaurants flexibility and creates more prevention education about underage drinking and alcohol abuse. Herbert said the idea that hiding the preparation of cocktails will stop kids from drinking is “kind of a hunch people have and maybe a perception they have, but it’s not based on any scientific data.” Herbert says he thinks Utah will eventually stop using the barriers.

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DUI LIMITS

Another alcohol-related bill lawmakers are considering this year could make Utah’s DUI threshold the strictest by lowering the blood-alcohol content limit to .05 percent, down from .08 percent. Herbert said no one wants to see someone driving under the influence and many countries outside the U.S. have the lower standard already. A number of factors can impact someone’s BAC, but the proposal would generally mean that a 150-pound man could get a DUI after two beers, while a 120-pound woman could get one after a single drink, according to the American Beverage Institute. The governor said it’s a public safety issue. “If you drink, don’t drive. That’s the simple message.”

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GUN BILLS

Utah lawmakers have considered two bills this year addressing guns and concealed-carry permits. One would lower the minimum age to obtain a concealed-carry permit to 18, down from 21 years old. Another would allow those over 21 to carry concealed weapons without a permit, something the governor has vetoed in the past. Herbert said he’s always open to talking about changes, but he thinks Utah’s gun laws work pretty well and it’s a strong Second Amendment state.

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FOOD SALES TAX

Legislators are looking to raise the sales tax on groceries, after dropping it a decade ago to 1.75 percent from 4.75 percent. The idea is to give Utah a more stable source of tax revenue because shopping and big purchases can drop off in a recession but people still buy groceries. Legislative leaders have not settled on or released a firm plan. Herbert said Utah needs to make some adjustments to its tax policy and he’s open to raising the food tax, but it should be paired with some kind of break for the poor, who can be hardest hit by grocery taxes.


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