Utahns soon may be able to join wine clubs and bring back a case of liquor from out of state

(AP file photo) In this June 16, 2016, file photo, bottles of wine are displayed during a tour of a state liquor store, in Salt Lake City.

Utahns soon may be able to subscribe to out-of-state wine clubs.

And — if that alcohol first isn’t enough — they also may be able bring a case of liquor into the state without a penalty.

After days of discussions and compromises, HB157 has gained final approval from both the House and the Senate. It now awaits the governor’s signature.

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael McKell, R-Spanish Fork, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would create a program in which “the department will purchases a wine subscription on behalf of an individual.”

The consumer would pay the cost of the alcoholic product — as well as the state markup of 88%, one of the nation’s highest liquor taxes.

The bill does not allow for home delivery, though. Consumers would have to pick up their purchases at a designated liquor store.

In addition to wine clubs, the bill also would allow Utahns to bring in “a maximum of nine liters of liquor" from another state or country if it is for personal use — not resale. Previously, residents were limited to 2 liters of alcohol when they cleared U.S. Customs.

Utah has been one of only five states — along with Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky and Mississippi — that has not allowed direct-to-consumer wine delivery.

However, officials with the Wine Institute, a public policy advocacy association, questioned how successful Utah’s wine subscription program would be — as the state’s markup likely would make the wines to costly for most consumers.

A similar bill, SB103, which would have allowed consumers to special-order alcohol products through the DABC has stalled because of its cost.

A large cleanup bill — which tweaks several sections of state code relating to liquor — also has been approved and awaits the governor’s signature.

HB399, sponsored by Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, would, among other changes, make it easier to buy a bar license from an existing club owner, an attempt to ease Utah’s current shortage of bar permits.

Under current state law, liquor licenses can be sold to another person — whether it is for the same location or a different premises — but the transfer must take place within the same county. Under HB399, bar licenses would be exempt from that county limitation.

To get a bar licenses, a Utah business owner must apply with the DABC and then wait until one becomes available through an increase in population — state law allows one bar for every 10,200 people. Businesses that are on the bar license waiting list had hoped that the Legislature would adjust the population ratio to solve the problem.

HB399 also would prohibit alcohol manufacturers from promoting “the intoxicating effects of alcohol” or emphasizing “the high-alcohol content” of a product. Last year, when Utah allowed higher alcohol beer in grocery stores, many manufacturers put up signs that announced "stronger beer.”

Two controversial items were dropped from the measure’s final version. Law enforcement officers — arresting an individual for suspected drunken driving — would not be required to ask where the operator obtained the alcohol and record the information.

Also, beer manufacturers would not have to print the percentage of alcohol by volume, or ABV, on beer in large type.