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Rolly: Ghost of liquor laws past haunting Utah’s Capitol to scare up support for Zion Curtain

First Published      Last Updated Feb 20 2017 10:51 pm

With legislators working on an alcohol bill that could bring down Utah's Zion Curtain, the ghost of liquor laws past is still waging a valiant fight against demon rum.

Former Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, has been lurking behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to stand their ground against efforts to loosen what critics say are onerous rules that needlessly burden businesses.

The most talked-about amendment is a move backed by a growing number of legislators to repeal the requirement that restaurants build a barrier between their patrons and bartenders mixing drinks. Waddoups vigorously championed this Zion Curtain, which was meant to keep kids from seeing the drinks being prepared.




The curtain had the backing of Utah's predominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Waddoups was a powerful messenger to convey the faith's liquor positions. He left the Legislature to head up the Mormon mission in Rome.

Now he's back from that assignment and using his privileges as a former senator to roam the Legislature's restricted areas and lobby his ex-colleagues. But his presence, as an unregistered, unpaid lobbyist working strictly on behalf of himself, has confused the issue.

While legislative leaders have relayed to members a softening of the LDS Church's position on the Zion Curtain, are there mixed messages being conveyed? Is Waddoups still speaking clandestinely for the church?

Given Waddoups' past, lawmakers might wonder whom to believe if they desire to vote the church's sentiments. The former Senate leader reportedly has been using Mormon code words to help solidify his arguments.

Waddoups, whose wife was seriously injured years ago in an automobile accident with a drunken driver, also has been lobbying for HB155, sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo. That measure would lower the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05, making Utah's DUI law the strictest in the nation.

Speaking of lobbying • Former Utah League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Ken Bullock used a different tactic last week, when the House considered emergency legislation to protect an estimated half-million-dollar fund under Bullock's control.

The House amended SB137, a bill tweaking the state auditor's responsibilities. The change would allow the auditor to "take temporary custody" of money if necessary "to protect public funds from being improperly diverted from their intended public purpose."

The target of that amendment is the Utah Municipal Cooperative II, a fund Auditor John Dougall found during a review of the league's finances. The audit found sloppy and improper handling of the group's taxpayer-funded budget. Bullock resigned when the audit came out.

But he doesn't have the same lobbying advantage as Waddoups. So, when the House considered the SB137 amendment, Bullock, a longtime insider at the Legislature, perched himself on the front row of the gallery, directly behind House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, glaring down at the lawmakers like the Lion King addressing animals from his cliff.

The next day, Bullock sent a message to the House floor for Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who had run the amendment.

The message sought a quick meeting. The subject: "Auditor Dougall."

It didn't work. Eliason didn't meet with him. The amendment already had passed the House — and, soon after, the Senate ­— and landed on Gov. Gary Herbert's desk.

Adding some ambiance • The Legislature may have limited public access to its private areas, but Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, wants to open up the Senate lounge to a few.

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