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Liquor bill goes down smooth in Senate committee

by Eric S. Peterson
- Posted // 2011-02-23 -

The Utah Senate Business and Labor Committee unanimously passed Sen. John Valentine’s liquor bill, but the sponsor admitted the bill would be amended on the Senate floor.

Valentine unveiled his Senate Bill 314 to its first committee hearing, where he delivered the sober reminder to the committee that in the wake of the Legislature’s removal of private club memberships two sessions ago, the body had committed to beefing up alcohol policy to fight overconsumption and ensure public safety. His bill would specifically address enforcement by creating a provision to hire more Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control enforcement to match the increase in bars, clubs and restaurants serving beer and liquor.

“We have a problem where the number of licenses have been increasing but the number of people enforcing them have been going down,” Valentine told the committee. “This bill has a provision that ties the number of enforcement people with the number of license holders.” The bill also sought to address the liquor license quota system. “As you may know we have run out of quotas,” Valentine said. “However it is worse than that, we have actually over-allocated the number of available liquor licenses.”

To address that demand issue Valentine’s bill would add 40 new liquor licenses for restaurants—15 full liquor-service and 25 limited service—beer and wine—to the system. The bill also creates a new beer-only license for restaurants that are not bound by quotas. “This way a pizza parlor could serve beer for example,” Valentine said.

Other minor tweaks including allowing single beverage room service in hotels, the creation of recreation center licenses that would affect ski resorts as well as changing service hours so that all restaurant liquor and beer service begins at 11:30 a.m. Bars and taverns would still begin serving at 10 a.m. The bill also sought to make changes to the organization of the DABC based on a recent state audit.

The bill seeks to reorganize by having the Governor appoint the DABC chair, and then having the chair’s nomination of DABC director to be at the “advice and consent of the Senate.” A provision Valentine put into the bill to match the same process used for the state Tax Commission. The bill also seeks to address concerns about conflict of interest between DABC commissioners and employees and the licenses they regulate. Valentine’s bill would prohibit direct business relationships between DABC commissioners and employees and the bars, clubs and other license holders they regulate. Earl Dorius, the DABC regional director told the committee that this component of the bill was overly broad.

“This bill goes far beyond regulating commission members,” Dorius told the commission. “It covers every employee of the department from all levels. Warehouse worker--as the bill is worded would--be prevented from having their spouse work for any licensee or permitee holding even a single-event permit.” Theoretically Dorius argued that a part-time employee of a DABC warehouse could be prohibited from having a spouse or family member from even working as waitress at a bar or restaurant. Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal signaled his general support of the bill so long as Valentine amended the scope of the conflict-of-interest portion of the bill arguing it as being “way too wide.” Valentine agreed an amendment would be made on the Senate floor but said he wanted to study the issue since the state audit said employee conflicts of interest should be addressed.

The bill passed unanimously from the committee and will now head to the Senate floor for debate.

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