Paul Rolly: Studies debunk need for Zion Curtain to hide Utah bartenders

By paul rolly

Tribune Columnist

Published: April 16, 2013 08:43PM
Updated: April 16, 2013 11:22PM
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Paul Rolly

The conservative Sutherland Institute often attempts to incorporate its moralistic philosophies into public policies, which sometimes backfires.

There was the “Natural Family” resolution that the Kanab City Council adopted in response to a treatise by Sutherland calling for local governments to adopt resolutions declaring that the natural family is a man, a woman and their children.

That led to calls for boycotts of Kanab’s tourist industry, which in turn led to a business backlash against the council.

Then there was Sutherland’s rant against the content of movies in the Sundance Film Festival, which led conservative Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, to compare Sutherland to the radical Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for picketing funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to protest homosexuality.

But the Sutherland Institute still has the ear of a significant segment of the Utah Legislature — much more so than, say, public education professionals — which makes its latest foofaraw worthy of comment.

A post on its website Friday praised the Utah Senate for killing a bill passed by the House that would have done away with the state’s Zion Curtain requirement that a bartender preparing alcoholic drinks be hidden from the view of restaurant patrons. The House passed the bill based on economic development arguments, since restaurants have shown a reluctance to come to Utah because of the requirement.

The Sutherland Institute post referenced two studies pertaining to alcohol and youths — neither of which has any relevance to the Zion Curtain debate.

The first study is a “Report to Congress on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage Drinking” conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The highlighted portion of the study said underage drinking is substantially influenced by drinking environments, especially in homes where parents are drinkers.

The Zion Curtain law doesn’t stop children from being in a drinking environment, since the alcohol is served to patrons once it is mixed out of view.

The second study is from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, titled “Childhood Risk Factors of Early-Onset Drinking,” funded and supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

“It said variables most predictive of early-onset drinking were having a single parent, sipping or tasting alcohol by age 10 and parental drinking frequency. In other words, if the personal culture of the child is infused with alcohol consumption, including liquor availability and consumption at regular family eating spots, the child has a greater risk of underage drinking.”

Again, the Zion Curtain law doesn’t stop single parents from letting kids sip alcohol, nor does it address how often parents drink.

One respected think tank not mentioned in the Sutherland article is the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. It said in a 2011 report that research data do not support the assertions that hiding bartenders from public view in restaurants can reduce the number of underage drinkers.

But, hey, why should the Legislature change its pattern now and start listening to more than one point of view?

Speaking of liquor laws • A story in The Salt Lake Tribune’s Money section Sunday noted that, because of Utah laws, the state’s wine industry is struggling compared with that of Colorado, where the industry is thriving. One restriction in wineries that have tasting rooms is that patrons can sip their wine in that designated room, but they cannot carry it across an imaginary line to the wine racks where the product is offered for sale.

But, legislators insist, those same patrons can carry their guns anywhere they want, whether the winery owner wants them to or not.

prolly@sltrib.com