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Panel OKs test to open a few Utah liquor stores on some holidays

Published February 18, 2012 10:25 am

Legislature • Nod to Utah visitors cited, but bill doesn't include major days like Christmas.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A proposal to open selected state liquor stores on certain holidays passed a House committee on Friday, over the objections of the Senate president's wife, the victim of a drunk-driving collision.

Three days earlier, the proposal for a pilot program to test holiday openings had failed to pass out of the committee. But the bill was amended to specifically exclude Christmas, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and July Fourth.

"We're talking about minor holidays in which most retail stores are open," said Rep. Patrice Arent, the sponsor of HB283. The Salt Lake City Democrat said her goal was to make the state more amenable to tourists who are "blind sided" when they can't buy a bottle of wine or alcohol at state-controlled liquor stores — but they can get a drink at a bar or buy beer at hundreds of convenience stores and supermarkets throughout the state.

The amended bill, passing on an 8-to-2 vote, calls for a two-year test program, with select stores in high-tourism areas to remain open on holidays.

But Anna Kay Waddoups said opening liquor stores on holidays would result in more drunken driving. She said that even if the pilot program "doesn't cause too many more problems," it could then be expanded to include more store openings on even more holidays.

"I come before you today as a victim of a drunk driver," she said. "Anytime you have a pilot program, you think something will be successful [and] it will be difficult to pull back."

On Feb. 14, 2001, Waddoups was seriously injured when a suspected drunk driver slammed into her car as it sat idling at a stop light on North Temple in downtown Salt Lake City. The suspect, Mark McKnight Oroszi, had been charged in 27 other cases for alcohol-related offenses and has been in and out of jail in a revolving door of arrest-and-release dating back to the 1990s. He has yet to answer charges in the Waddoups crash.

The bill, which now goes to the full House for consideration, does not include the Utah holiday of Pioneer Day, July 24, among the exclusions. The day commemorates the arrival of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley. Although some 19th century Mormons were known to imbibe, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long discouraged its members from drinking alcohol.

It's unlikely that liquor stores would be open on Pioneer Day, given that under the bill the board of commissioners of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would determine the holidays on which liquor could be sold. A majority of the board's members are Mormon — as is the vast majority of the Utah Legislature.

Liquor stores could be open on holidays such as Labor Day or Presidents Day. The measure's sponsor said it was never the intent of the legislation to open stores on Christmas Day or other major holidays, but the amendment was added to make that clear.

State-controlled liquor stores have been open on Election Day since 2009. And imbibers have been able to get a drink in a bar or restaurant on Election Day since 2008.

None of the debate Friday satisfied Dalane England, a member of the conservative Eagle Forum. She told the committee that stores should not be opened to accommodate imbibers who represent "a minority of people." She also questioned why lawmakers would "want to change our laws and societal values based on the desires of tourists."

"When I go to England I want to experience what it's like there," she said. "People who come to Utah want to experience Utah. We are a unique state, a peculiar state — and that's a great thing."

dawn@sltrib.com

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