McEntee: Lawmakers do the right thing with liquor changes
Dang. I was sort of hoping for a fight.
But on Wednesday, the Utah Senate and House cordially passed legislation boosting the number of liquor licenses by 90 50 for full-service restaurants, 40 for wine-and-beer-only establishments.
It's a nod to a strengthening economy and the fact that such businesses are necessary and in demand, even here in Utah. It also adds four more restaurant cops to sniff out underage drinkers and more DUI "blitzes" by the Utah Highway Patrol to nab drunk drivers.
More than that, the votes 26-1 in the Senate and 57-10 in the House strongly suggest that lawmakers are recognizing the growing diversity in our traditionally straight-laced and buttoned down populace.
Even Senate President Michael Waddoups, a stern supporter of liquor control, cast an aye.
There were questions, of course. One representative didn't like the increase in license fees. Another wondered why would-be operators of clubs, bars and taverns weren't eligible. Others asked, why have a limit at all?
And, of course, one representative stood for Utah's longstanding wariness of alcohol. Speaking on behalf of Utahns who don't like the prospect of more access to it, he said we should re-evaluate booze and all its consequences.
The bill's backers, Sen. John Valentine and Rep. Gage Froerer, calmly answered those questions. The atmosphere was congenial. And it all took place in about an hour and a half. There is, of course, a dark side to drinking. Alcoholism is a terrible scourge. Too many people are killed or maimed by drunk drivers. Homeless people can die of exposure. Underage drinking remains, as it always has, a problem.
But for responsible adults, beer, wine and spirits can be an enjoyable part of life. It might be mulled wine in the winter or gin and tonics on a summer evening around the grill. For many of us, it's part of life.
I hope this legislation leads to more reasonable alcohol initiatives, such as neighborhood pubs and a wider variety of ethnic eateries with specialty wines and spirits. Utah and its people would be the better for it.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.