A proposal to open certain state liquor stores on holidays fell flat in a House committee Tuesday, with groups like the Eagle Forum and Sutherland Institute arguing it would lead to more drinking and drunken driving.
"We don’t want to encourage consumption. That’s not what this bill is about," said Rep. Patrice Arent, the sponsor of HB283. The Salt Lake City Democrat said her goal was to make the state more amenable to tourists who are "blindsided when they can’t buy a bottle of wine or liquor on holidays."
She proposed a one-year test program, with select stores in high-tourism areas opened on holidays.
But Paul Mero, of the Sutherland Institute, said there is good reason to regulate alcohol and the inconvenience doesn’t warrant changing the law.
"Those of use who see the human cost and human fallout would like to see liquor sales and consumption limited to the highest degree," he said.
Art Brown, president of the Utah Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he started his day at a hearing seeking more funds to hire more Utah Highway Patrol troopers, and was dismayed to finish it at a hearing on a bill "that actually turns the spigot back on and puts more drunk drivers on the road."
Arent’s bill failed to make it out of committee on a 3-4 vote.
The committee also defeated HB193, sponsored by Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake City, which was to have required 40 percent of the Utah Liquor Commission to be consumers of alcohol.
"I feel it is important to have views about alcohol that may not be [understood] from someone who abstains, who has never had a drink or doesn’t patronize state liquor stores or bars," Doughty said.
Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, questioned why there wouldn’t be spots reserved for law enforcement or a recovering alcoholic, "those who are affected by alcohol on more than just a drinking level."
Ultimately, members rejected the bill on a 3-4 vote.
The committee approved HB142, sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, that would redefine the types of certain liquor licenses but would do nothing to change the number of bar or restaurant licenses available.
Froerer said he will run HB270 later in the session, which would remove the cap on the licenses for restaurants and dining clubs.
Several major developers said they have been trying to recruit restaurant chains to the state, but have run into a roadblock because the state is near its quota on restaurant liquor licenses.
"We look at the liquor legislation not as about liquor but about restaurants, economic growth, jobs and development," said Tai Biesinger, CEO of Pentad Properties, Inc.
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