Senator John Valentine (R – Orem) has announced that he intends to introduce a bill in the next Utah legislative session that would establish a property right in liquor permits, allowing restaurants with current liquor permits to sell them. Use of any purchased permit would be conditioned upon approval by the state liquor-control board. The intended bill will also convert about 25 of the 50 unused tavern permits (which allow only the sale of 3.2 beer) into restaurant permits. Senator Valentine currently has no plans to make any changes to the state’s club permits.
Utah limits liquor permits based upon population and ran out of restaurant and club permits earlier this year. The proposed legislation may help alleviate the resulting logjam if existing businesses that are struggling elect to sell or if other restaurants elect to stop serving alcohol. Questions remain as to whether the bill will pass. Legislators have expressed reluctance to increase the number of permits granted, so the proposed legislation may create a work around. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a major stakeholder in Utah’s liquor policy, also has yet to weigh in on the proposed change.
The proposed change is likely to put small and start-up restaurants at a distinct disadvantage to well-funded chains. Senator Valentine is quoted in a Salt Lake Tribune article as acknowledging this issue and indicated that some permits could be set aside for small businesses.