A drive to tear down the so-called Zion Wall — a barrier that restaurants are required to have to prevent patrons from seeing alcoholic drinks prepared or poured — hit a brick wall Thursday.
House members made a push to remove the 7-foot-2 barrier, but were blocked by senators, who argued that letting the public see drinks being prepared would lead to more alcohol sales and more alcohol consumption.
"It changes it into a bar-like atmosphere," argued Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who has been the leader in the Senate on alcohol issues.
But Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, countered that restaurants that pre-dated the 2009 enactment of the wall are exempt from having to build the wall. They aren’t bars, he argued, and the Legislature has created a competitive disadvantage.
"We set up an uneven playing field for these businesses. … [And] we have no evidence that they do what they were intended to do," Wilcox said of the wall. "The average Utahn doesn’t walk into a Chili’s and see a bar."
The Senate refused to budge, meaning the wall will stay in place and the issue will likely return to the Legislature next year.
There were some changes, including creation of a master license that will allow restaurant chains to get a single license, presumably freeing up the scarce licenses. The sides also agreed to allow tastings of liquor, wine or beer.
Mandatory minimum fines for alcohol violations were stripped out of the final bill.
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