As the Utah Legislature wrapped up its session this week, it appears that a battle is brewing between the House and Senate over alcohol reform. Citing a concern with the “culture of alcohol,” the Senate declined to support many of the measures the House approved this session. The House voted to eliminate the so-called “Zion curtain,” which several key House members describe as “irrational” and “weird.” The House also approved changes to the population quotas for club licenses and removed restrictions that prohibit beer wholesalers and producers from selling “heavy” beer directly to restaurants. Each of these reforms, however, failed to receive a hearing in the Senate. Representatives Ryan Wilcox and Curtis Oda have been particularly vocal in expressing dismay about the Senate’s refusal to consider House bills that passed with large majorities. In response, the House defeated a number of the Senate’s alcohol bills, including those introduced by Senator John Valentine who is one of the key Senate sponsors of alcohol legislation. The defeated Senate proposals include increasing penalties for serving minors, restricting multiple licenses for the same location, allowing sampling of beer and spirits and restricting DABC’s discretionary powers.
Importantly, the Legislature will study alcohol reform during the interim session, which runs from April through November. Topics for discussion include whether to repeal the Zion curtain and increase the quotas for club licenses. The Senate has suggested that any increase in dining club licenses, which include restaurants like Ruth’s Chris and Spencer’s, would require limiting these establishments to patrons who are 21 and older. The Legislature also indicated that interim committees will review proposed legislation to address the sale of existing licenses.