New alternative offered to Utah’s ‘Zion Curtain’ liquor law: ‘Washington state wall’

First Published      Last Updated Feb 28 2017 11:10 pm

Lawmakers are now offering a third-alternative to the "Zion Curtain" — the 7-foot opaque barrier in restaurants to prevent children from seeing drinks mixed — and the "Zion Moat" proposed substitute, a 10-foot buffer from bars where children are banned.

House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, calls the new option "the Washington state wall" because "it's exactly what Washington state does." He says it's a compromise that may solve the biggest concerns with the 144-page alcohol reform bill, HB442, he is sponsoring.

The new alternative isn't exactly a wall.

"It could be a railing. It could be some kind of planters. But it is something that is five to six feet away from the bar structure. It separates the dining space from the bar space. And it has to be 42 inches high," Wilson said.

That is among several changes in HB442 developed in the past day or so that will officially be unveiled Wednesday at a hearing before the House Business and Labor Committee at 8 a.m. in room 445 at the State Capitol.

Wilson said the alternative is designed to make compliance with the new legislation easier for some older restaurants. Those in business before the Zion Curtain mandate was enacted were not forced to build a barrier because they were grandfathered under older rules.

His initial plan for a Zion Curtain alternative was a 10-foot buffer area where children are not allowed. That didn't sit well with smaller establishments, where such a buffer might keep large sections off-limits to families with children — or force expensive remodeling to install a Zion Curtain.

Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association (SLARA), sent an email to members Tuesday saying there were several items in the bill "that would too greatly hinder the restaurant community."

"We want to be forthcoming to you: if SLARA can not reach an acceptable agreement in the final bill, we feel keeping the Zion Curtain may be the best option for the time being," Corigliano told members.

Wilson said the "Washington State wall" could be less expensive and more attractive than a Zion Curtain or buffer zone.

"It's just to define the space: what's the bar space, and what's the dining space. There are a number of states that have something like that. But we specifically lifted and copied Washington state" statutes, he said.

A day earlier Wilson said he was offended by the nickname "Zion Moat" given by some to the 10-foot minor free buffer zone.

One benefit of HB442, Wilson added, is that within five years, it will force all alcohol-serving restaurants to follow the same rules.

"Right now we have a Wild West of rules among restaurants," he said. Regular restaurants, grandfathered restaurants and dining clubs face different rules.

Licenses for dining clubs — with no barriers because youth are not allowed — would disappear under the bill, and they must become either bars or restaurants.

"We are going to give grandfathered restaurants and dining clubs time to transition to that [standard] arrangement over five years, or a remodel, or a change of ownership, whichever of those three occurs first," Wilson said.

He mentioned a few other tweaks coming to the bill.

For example, it had required time-stamped tabs for every drink. Wilson said the idea behind that was to help servers keep track of how much they served, and when, to help prevent overconsumption. But Wilson said that will likely be pulled because technology doesn't easily allow that.

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