A bill that would increase the supply of available liquor licenses to Utah restaurants hit a roadblock in a committee hearing Friday.
The House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted to put HB338 on hold after a long debate over whether increasing the number of alcohol licenses for fine-dining restaurants by 25 would also increase the amount of alcohol consumption, DUIs, and underage drinking.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said if passed, the bill would open up economic opportunity for which there is currently a demand.
Establishments hoping to receive these licenses currently sit on a two- to three-year waiting list, according to Froerer. As of last week, 11 establishments had applied for licenses that would allow them to sell more alcohol.
The 25 additional licenses made available under HB338 would also allow businesses to sell alcohol without the requirement of the “Zion Curtain,” an 8-foot barrier required to shield restaurant patrons from the pouring and mixing of alcoholic beverages. The licenses also require that any minor patrons to be accompanied by someone over 21.
Members of the committee questioned the bill, claiming it presents a public safety concern for underage drinkers. .
“From the economic side of things, I get it. We’ve got a certain number of business licenses that are being underutilized,” said Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi. “But what is the fundamental issue here? Are we safeguarding minors from alcohol consumption or are we not? If we are, it needs to be black and white, not gray.”
Froerer said afterward that the debate should be about business and economic development, not alcohol.
Despite the bill’s chilly reception, Froerer said he wasn’t giving up.
“We’ll circle back with the committee and try to get them back on track with what this bill attempted to do, which is increase business opportunity,” Froerer said. “This is all about revenue and taxation, increased jobs and increased opportunity for businesses within our state and outside our state to set up businesses.”
Conservative groups spoke out against the bill, including The Sutherland Institute’s Derek Monson, who said demand for liquor consumption is provided for under current state law and that “those who want to consume alcohol in Utah have literally hundreds of options to choose from,” making the bill unnecessary.