Utahns want to tear down Zion Curtain, poll says

First Published      Last Updated Nov 12 2014 08:46 am

Liquor laws » Democrats and independents oppose bar-area barriers; Republicans are divided.

Tear down those walls.

About 62 percent of Utahns want to get rid of the 7-foot-2-inch barriers between patrons and bar areas — dubbed Zion Curtains — that new restaurants serving liquor must have, according to a new poll from UtahPolicy.com.

"Anecdotally, people have said it's not a good idea," said Bryan Schott, managing editor of UtahPolicy.com, which released the poll Monday. "But now people have scientific data that can be used as a starting point for discussion."

The poll asked 402 voters if they "favored or opposed removing the Zion Curtain from newly licensed restaurants that serve liquor." The barriers allegedly shield minors from the pouring and mixing of alcoholic drinks.

By a 2-1 margin, Utahns favored removing the barriers.

Of the 402 registered voters — contacted via home telephone, cellphone and online — 40.8 percent were "strongly in favor" of removal, while nearly 21 percent were "somewhat in favor."

Schott said respondents were divided along political lines, as 88 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of independent voters wanted to remove the barriers but only 48 percent of Republicans did.

Men (65 percent) also were more likely than women (59 percent) to want the barriers removed.

Schott said the Zion Curtain question was just one of several alcohol-policy questions that were asked in the poll, conducted Nov. 4-6 by Dan Jones and Associates. Zions Bank helped fund the poll, which has a margin of error of 4.89 percent.

The poll comes just two months after Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, — the designer of Utah's Zion Curtain law — left office to head the Utah State Tax Commission. In one of his last days as a lawmaker, Valentine said he wished he had made all Utah restaurants have a Zion Curtain, not just new establishments.

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said he already has plans to sponsor a bill in 2015 that will do away with the barrier requirement. It would be his third try at changing the law. In 2013, his bill passed the House, but faltered in the Senate. In 2014, his proposed legislation never made it out of committee because Valentine and key lawmakers had decided not to discuss changes to Utah liquor laws after Mormon church officials said they were happy with what was on the books.

The results of the UtahPolicy.com poll may help propel change this time around.

"It's a matter of education and learning about details," Powell said. "Once people understand how the law works and the impact it has on businesses for very little positive gain, that is the way we can make progress."

Melva Sine, director of the Utah Restaurant Association, said she was not surprised by the results.

"For us, it confirms what we have been saying for years," she said. "Seeing alcohol doesn't encourage people to drink."

She hopes the poll "ignites a fire" in the Legislature and it finally does away with the law that confuses patrons and brings negative media attention to the state.

"That's our goal in 2015, to do away with any kind of obstruction in serving and dispensing alcohol," she said. "We [Utah] should be hospitable and grant an adult request and do it in the most accommodating way possible."