A hike in Utah’s liquor prices is going to the governor

If signed, the bill would raise the state’s markup on alcohol and the tax on beer kegs, add more licenses and ban certain products.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune)The annual omnibus liquor bill, HB548, in which the Utah Legislature collects all changes to the state’s liquor laws, passed out of the Senate on Feb. 27, 2024, on a unanimous vote. Shown is a new state liquor store opens in West Valley City at 5432 West High Market Drive, Suite F, on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.

Changes to Utah’s liquor laws — including a slight raise in what the state charges customers for booze, and a gradual increase in the number of liquor licenses issued — is on its way to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk.

The annual omnibus liquor bill, HB548, passed out of the Senate on Wednesday night on a unanimous vote. The House, which passed the bill last week, voted unanimously Thursday to approve some minor changes the Senate made to the bill.

If Cox signs the bill, it will take effect May 1.

Before Wednesday’s Senate vote, Rep. Jefferson Burton, R-Salem, the bill’s sponsor, told The Salt Lake Tribune that there’s something for “everyone” in HB548, including those who produce and distribute alcohol and those who want to increase prevention and enforcement.

“What we try to do is a balanced bill that meets the needs of everyone, but no one’s totally happy,” Burton said. “And I think that means you’ve got a pretty good bill.”

He added that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other faith groups helped write some of the bill’s language. “They recognize that we live in a state that is evolving and changing,” Burton said.

One minor change added in the Senate would add “portability,” according to Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, to a Capital City Renovation Zone, made up of three blocks downtown between West Temple and 400 West, and between South Temple and 100 South.

Another change involves a plan for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services to create a “round up” program, under which state liquor stores can ask customers whether they’d like to round up their purchase to the nearest dollar for deposit into the Pamela Atkinson Homeless Account. In early versions, the bill specified the money going to the Atkinson fund would specifically be used for substance-abuse treatment; after a Senate amendment, the bill no longer specifies how that money would be used.

The main points of HB548 include:

• The bill would raise the markup the state charges for spirits, wine and beer, from 88% to 88.5%.

• The bill would raise the tax on beer kegs, by a dollar over four years, from $13.10 for a 31-gallon barrel to $14.10.

• The bill sets out a plan to lower, over seven years, the population quota used to determine how many bar and restaurant licenses the state’s DABS commission can grant. “Part of the alcohol bill is to provide balance, it’s to meet the needs of our business growth and our demographic changes in the state and also make sure we protect our citizens,” Burton said.

• The bill also would ban the sale of frozen alcoholic products, vaporized alcohol and any beverage that is more than 80% alcohol — such as Everclear, which at 190 proof is 95% alcohol, and certain 160-proof rums.

• The bill also would create three more full-time compliance positions in the State Bureau of Investigation — at a cost, according to a legislative fiscal note, of $518,200 a year.

• The bill would make it legal for hotel guests to carry their drink from the hotel bar to their rooms and other designated areas, in an unmarked opaque cup.

• The bill would implement a “place of last drink” program, which Burton recently told The Tribune has been implemented in other states as a way to discourage bars from overserving.