Legislation requiring at least two liquor-control commissioners on the five-member board be consumers of alcohol passed a House committee on Friday by a 7-to-3 vote.
HB193, sponsored by Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake City, goes to the House floor for consideration.
"The state has chosen to be in the liquor industry, for good or bad," Doughty said of the state-controlled liquor monopoly. "We need to ensure that we have a voice on the liquor commission from the people we are regulating."
Earlier this month, the bill had failed to pass out of committee over concerns centering on definitions on what constitutes a drinker.
Doughty amended the bill so that prospective commissioners can simply sign an affidavit stating that they do, in fact, drink alcohol. An affidavit makes sense, say, over a proposal that imbibers on the board "take a shot before each meeting," quipped Rep. Douglas Sagers, R-Tooele. But Sagers voted against the bill, saying such a makeup does not reflect the demographics of the state, whose majority are nondrinkers because of the domination of the Mormon faith, which directs its members to eschew alcohol.
"If people chose to drink, let them — but we don’t need to fix something that’s not broken," he said.
Two current members on the five-member board are social drinkers — thought to be the highest number ever.
It wasn’t until 1992 that Vicki McCall broke the all-nondrinker tradition on the part-time commission, which was formed in 1935. She was a non-Mormon and the board’s first social drinker. The 4-to-1 breakdown remained until Gordon Strachan was appointed in 2007.
Despite the large numbers of Mormons in the state, drinking habits have changed, say legislative auditors.
While the state’s population from 2001 to 2009 increased 22 percent, gallons of liquor consumed in Utah for the same period increased 54 percent, according to a 2010 legislative report.
The demographics of Utah also have changed.
In 1989, more than 70 percent of the population was made of people who belonged to the LDS Church, while in 2004 that number had fallen to 62 percent. And a PEW Center research study in 2009 said Mormons made up 58 percent of Utah’s population.
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