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‘Zion Curtain’ bill could be released on Friday, sponsor says

First Published      Last Updated Feb 27 2017 12:35 pm

A much-discussed but as-yet-unseen bill to tear down the so-called "Zion Curtain" in Utah restaurants could be revealed this week.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said he and Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, are nearing completion of their proposed overhaul of Utah liquor policy, which is expected to nix the mandate that 7-foot-tall barriers be built in restaurants to shield the mixing of alcoholic drinks from public view.

"We hope that will be available tomorrow," Stevenson said. "We seem to get about where it should be and then we take it back to the drawing board."

The bill was first described to members of the media in January, when Wilson said it would remove the restaurant requirement, while increasing efforts to combat underage drinking.

Based on interviews with numerous sources involved in talks on the bill, some of the highlights will be:

• An increase on the statutory markup on liquor and wine sold in the state, from about 86 percent to 88 percent, the proceeds of which would go to alcohol education and enforcement programs;

• Imposing a 10-foot "buffer" around a restaurant bar where children would not be allowed to sit;

• Streamlining the types of state liquor licenses;

• New state licensing and inspection of roughly 2,200 grocery stores and convenience stores that sell beer. Currently they are only regulated by municipalities;

• Restrictions on displays of beer in grocery stores and convenience stores, requiring the stores to display all of their alcohol products in one location and not scattered around the store.

Stevenson said negotiations began roughly five months ago, with the bill itself swelling at times to more than 100 pages in length.

"I think 92 was the last draft I saw," he said. "There are some word changes that will cause the length in a lot of places [of state code]. It is a very big document in the State of Utah — the alcohol policy."

Asked about the "Zion Curtain," a controversial and frequently-lampooned element of Utah liquor law, Stevenson said it remains a part of the bill but he declined to offer specifics.

"That was a starting point," he said. "We're still discussing that."

He also said a bill by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers to 0.05 percent — lowest in the nation — was prepared independently from his and Wilson's bill.

Thurston's bill cleared the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee last week and is awaiting a debate by the full House.

"They are two completely separate bills," Stevenson said. "We had no idea the 0.05 thing was even being considered."


Twitter: @bjaminwood

— Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.