Liquor impairs the human capacity for rational thought. Strangely, however, this applies both to those who consume it and those who don't. At least that's been our experience with liquor regulation in Utah.
Despite that, the Legislature is considering a reasonable bill that would improve the accountability of the scandal-scarred Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The DABC has been tarred by a series of legislative audits that have alleged financial improprieties by the former director and poor oversight of small package stores that have lost the state money. And that's only the top of the list.
SB66 would reform the management structure of the DABC. The commission would be directed to hire an outside auditor to go over its accounts annually, and it would be required to create an internal audits division. In addition, the state auditor would investigate the department's operations, best practices, efficiency, ethics and legal compliance.
The bill would add two members to the liquor commission, expanding it to seven, and create two subcommittees of the commission. One would oversee compliance, licensing and enforcement. The other would oversee operations and procurement.
The subcommittee system should answer the criticism that in the past the commission's time has been consumed by licensing and compliance issues, giving short shrift to the oversight of operations.
Some have argued that a part-time commission is ill-equipped to deal with the complex job of overseeing the state's liquor monopoly, which is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars. This bill sticks with a part-time commission. If these reforms fall short, the Legislature should consider a full-time commission on the model of the Public Service or Tax commissions.
Under the present bill, an executive director would serve a four-year term, but he or she could be reappointed by the governor. Previous directors practically had tenure.
The bill would create an advisory board composed of representatives of licensees, such as bars, restaurants, clubs and wholesalers.
This legislation would fix the DABC's management shortcomings, but it leaves unaddressed many other issues. Among them is the shortage of liquor licenses, particularly for restaurants, that hurts the state's economy. Another is the shabby way the DABC treats its employees by offering minimal wages, only part-time work and few benefits.
SB66 would be a good start. But it's only a start.