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Home / Articles / Opinion / Editorial /  Leave Us Alone
Editorial

Leave Us Alone

By Holly Mullen
Posted // February 9,2009 - By most measures of small-business success in Utah, Tony Chlepas would be in the Hall of Fame. His mother, the late Helen Chlepas, was widowed with her four children still in grade school. In the early ’70s, Helen secured a small loan to buy a ramshackle little tavern near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Tony and his siblings grew up helping their mom, including in the bar’s tiny kitchen. That’s where Helen perfected the bar’s specialty sandwich. And now the Cotton Bottom Inn and its garlic burger are world famous.

Tony owns the bar outright since his mother passed away a few years ago. He’s doing well, and he’s earned his success. As any bar owner will tell you, theirs is more than a full-time job this time of the year, when the Utah Legislature starts its annual fiddling with state liquor

laws. Whether it’s splitting hairs over the size of a legal shot of alcohol, club membership, smoking regulations or dram shop laws, business owners like Tony Chlepas are on hyper-alert from January to March. It’s a waiting game to see how much their right to make a living will suffer under the moral watchdogs on the Hill. Their livelihoods are on the line every year. Last week, Tony (whom my brother and I grew up with in Holladay) was talking about the proposed changes to liquor laws already bouncing around, only three weeks into the session.

Orem Sen. John Valentine has been crafting the worst bill of all—the creation of a central database to store information on bar patrons, gleaned by scanning their driver’s licenses as they enter a drinking establishment. Law enforcement officers would have access to the information for investigations into DUI stops or other traffic violations. No one can really say what other information would be open to the government’s Peeping Toms. Valentine’s fellow Republican, Senate President Michael Waddoups, wants restaurants that serve liquor to have scanning technology, as well. That way, the pimply-faced front-desk host at your favorite franchise eatery could feed your personal data to the state, too. Legislators would never try this power play on the insurance industry, farmers, real-estate agents, bankers or other scions of Utah business. The Valentine- Waddoups model cuts to the quick Americans’ right to be left alone and the right of a legal business to operate free of unreasonable state intrusion.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. liked the notion a few weeks ago. But the original intention was to scan for the sole purpose of rooting out underage drinkers. Now the thing has morphed into a perverted morality measure, fueled by the do-gooder mentality that underscores too many Utah laws. Now Huntsman—thinking like a global politician who sees a world beyond Taylorsville—is getting uneasy with the whole idea. The Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all rights not articulated by the Bill of Rights.

It’s the handy little amendment Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun cited when writing for the majority in Roe v. Wade. Nowhere in the Constitution are we specifically guaranteed a right to privacy. But Blackmun argued it’s there nevertheless—for women who want an abortion free of state interference in the first three months of pregnancy. People over the age of 21 have a legal right to drink in bars. Would a law storing their personal information in a database mess with their right to move about where they want and to associate with whom they want and, in short, tamper with their right to privacy? It sounds like a court test ripe for the picking.

Tony Chlepas, sounding like the successful businessman he is, raises another specter. Say the cops track a DUI suspect’s activity to his bar the previous evening. No matter how sophisticated the database, there is no accounting for the beer the guy may have drunk in his car on the drive home. There isn’t a way to track his stop at a friend’s house after the bars closed down, either.

“I know that stuff happens all the time,” Tony says. And he asks, pretty reasonably: “How do they hold a bar owner liable in those cases?” No matter how far to the left or right you sit on the political spectrum, it’s scary stuff.

Americans—even here in the sovereign nation of Utah—still have a right to live their lives a little sub rosa. CW Send comments to hmullen@cityweekly.net

(Not) According to Jim: It’s been 179 weeks since Rep. Jim Matheson spoke to City Weekly.

Legislators would never try this power play on the insurance industry, farmers, real-estate agents, bankers or other scions of utah business.
 
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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // April 13,2009 at 15:39

I agree with you that the original piece of legislation was atrocious because it suggested to wantonly store customer info without any reason at all. However, there is a balance that I've seen struck with another initiative that has been very effective for my venue and others that participate throughout the country. It's called the Club Watch Community Connection (google it). It's essentially a Neighborhood Watch for nightclubs.

The reason we joined (and the reason I suspect most join) is that it solves a bunch of problems simultaneously: (1) Underage drinkers become moot (2) violence is virtually eliminated (3) it all happens in a very discrete and non-intrusive way that does not suck everybody's info for marketing purposes or whatever else scheming club owners might want it for.

Since my club started using it in 2006, we've seen a huge reduction in underage drinking and violence. And the improvement was noticeable within the first month, which is what I hear many club owners say who participate in the program.

The ID scanners that Gov. Huntsman and Sen. Valentine are proposing are not nearly as effective as the Club Watch Community Connection initiative because they're just dummy devices that can't tell the difference between a fake or real ID and they don't encourage communication between venues. I strongly encourage the Gov. and Sen. to not create more problems with this knee-jerk reaction; and if they're serious about making a real difference, then give the power to the businesses themselves to regulate themselves, don't mandate these kinds of rules, especially when they completely ignore the far more costly problem of violence in our clubs.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // April 13,2009 at 15:37

I agree with you that the original piece of legislation was atrocious because it suggested to wantonly store customer info without any reason at all. However, there is a balance that I've seen struck with another initiative that has been very effective for my venue and others that participate throughout the country. It's called the Club Watch Community Connection (google it). It's essentially a Neighborhood Watch for nightclubs.

The reason we joined (and the reason I suspect most join) is that it solves a bunch of problems simultaneously: (1) Underage drinkers become moot (2) violence is virtually eliminated (3) it all happens in a very discrete and non-intrusive way that does not suck everybody's info for marketing purposes or whatever else scheming club owners might want it for.

Since my club started using it in 2006, we've seen a huge reduction in underage drinking and violence. And the improvement was noticeable within the first month, which is what I hear many club owners say who participate in the program.

The ID scanners that Gov. Huntsman and Sen. Valentine are proposing are not nearly as effective as the Club Watch Community Connection initiative because they're just dummy devices that can't tell the difference between a fake or real ID and they don't encourage communication between venues. I strongly encourage the Gov. and Sen. to not create more problems with this knee-jerk reaction; and if they're serious about making a real difference, then give the power to the businesses themselves to regulate themselves, don't mandate these kinds of rules, especially when they completely ignore the far more costly problem of violence in our clubs.

 

 
 
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