Utah lawmakers made a few tweaks to liquor laws, but abstained from major alcohol legislation in 2018

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Brad R. Wilson, R-Kaysville, talks about HB456, a bill that modifies provisions related to the regulation of alcoholic beverages, during a House committee hearing on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018.

Utah lawmakers abstained from any major alcohol legislation in 2018.

They let Utah’s tough new drunken driving law — the toughest in the nation — stand, albeit with a few minor tweaks. The law, passed in 2017, lowers the state’s blood-alcohol content for driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.05 and goes into effect on Dec. 30.

Not a single bill was introduced in 2018 to discuss what the state will do later this year when the selection of 3.2 beer in Utah grocery and convenience stores is expected to decline.

And lawmakers decided not to change the July 1 expiration date on Utah’s unique “dining clubs.” Businesses that have the special licenses will have to decide before that date whether they want to become a restaurant or a bar.

“That choice is detrimental to many of our businesses,” said Max Doliney, owner of the Corner Store Pub and Grill in Park City.

Doliney, along with dozens of other dining club owners — especially those in tourist areas such as Park City and southern Utah — had fought to keep the hybrid designation as part of HB456, sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville. Like a bar, the dining club allows adults to drink alcoholic beverages, without also having to order food. But minors are allowed inside when accompanied by adults.

While HB456 would not have changed dining clubs, it would address a host of other issues that have come up since 2017, when lawmakers passed a massive liquor-reform law. Among the changes in the “cleanup” bill:

• Restaurants would no longer have to post signs that say: “This premise is licensed as a restaurant, not a bar.” A bar would still have to display a sign that “clearly states” it is a bar and “no one under 21 years of age is allowed.”

• Salt Lake International Airport would have 14 bars, four more than the current state formula allows, when a massive expansion project now underway is complete.

• It would create a new liquor license for arenas with seating of more than 9,000. The new license would make it easier for Utah Jazz fans at Vivint Smart Home Arena, for example, to carry a beer from private dining areas into the arena — something that currently is not allowed.

• Businesses with a restaurant and a bar in the same building would have to meet new room requirements to ensure that the two serving areas are distinct and minors in the restaurant cannot see liquor being poured in the bar.

Finally, SB263, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, would remove the language — deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge — that would prohibit alcohol from being served during an R-rated movie where characters have sex while nude. The changes should prevent another lawsuit like the two-year battle involving Brewvies Cinema Pub’s showing of “Deadpool” and the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.