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Utah governor wants to loosen liquor laws

Gov. Jon Huntsman said Thursday that Utah's liquor laws need to be brought into the 21st century and that he's opposed to any plan to hide liquor bottles in restaurants.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gov. Jon Huntsman said Thursday that Utah's liquor laws need to be brought into the 21st century and that he's opposed to any plan to hide liquor bottles in restaurants.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, wants cocktails to be mixed in a back room, out of the view of customers. He said seeing liquor bottles and drinks being poured entices children to drink.

Huntsman told reporters Thursday he's opposed to Waddoups' plan because it is contrary to federal court rulings about the display of alcohol and compliance would cost restaurants tens of thousands of dollars in retrofitting.

Instead, he said Utah should follow the lead of other states and not allow children to sit at bar counters.

Quirky liquor laws
Huntsman has repeatedly found himself butting heads with Republican lawmakers over Utah's quirky liquor laws, which are some of the strictest in the country.

Utah is the only state where customers cannot be served a cocktail directly over the counter at restaurant bars, many of which have partitions dubbed "Zion Curtains" between customers and bartenders.

It is also the only state that requires someone to fill out an application and pay a fee to enter bars, which by law are considered private clubs, though they're open to the public.

Huntsman said those laws need to be eliminated in an effort to boost tourism.

However, GOP senators, including Waddoups, have said they're opposed to loosening the state's liquor laws. They have said they're partly responsible for reducing underage consumption and Utah having the nation's lowest DUI fatality rate.

Huntsman said during a monthly KUED news conference Thursday that nobody has told him how Utah's laws contribute to those lower rates.

He said he's only been told by restaurants, bar owners and others in the tourism industry that there's "no connection."

A message left with Waddoups Thursday was not immediately returned.

Many in state are Mormons
Utah is unique in that about 60 percent of the state's population are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which tells its members not to drink alcohol.

Waddoups' position on the value of private clubs has varied over the years.

Earlier this month, Waddoups said the state's private club laws needed to be loosened, though he wouldn't say how. But he also said private clubs are necessary as a way to track who is drinking and where.

However, private clubs don't keep a log of who enters each night or what they ordered.

In 2006, Waddoups told a legislative committee considering banning smoking in private clubs that the system was outdated.

"You can get that membership whether you're a resident or a tourist at any one of these places very simply. It's not difficult to do. I personally believe that the private club issue in Utah is outdated," Waddoups said. "That's my personal opinion on the issue. I think that if we want to have a place for people to drink we should let them have a place to drink."

Discussing his proposed smoking ban, which took effect Jan. 1 of this year, Waddoups said in 2006 that private clubs aren't really private and put the public at risk by allowing smoking inside.

"There's a reason we have the private club law in this state. It's because we don't want to be perceived as friendly to alcohol," Waddoups told The Associated Press then. "But at the same time we're not really living up to the expectations of the law in many of these clubs. I'm thinking the smoking ban is a step to point out these (clubs) are not as private as we say they are."