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Commentary: For reasonable liquor laws, voters must bypass the Utah Legislature

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune On Tuesday, the DABC granted the Wasatch Brew Pub in Sugar House a club license. That means it can now "tear down that wall," aka its Zion Curtain. The Pub just barely opened on Sept. 19, but because it didnt' have a club license it had to build a barrier and could not use it's beautiful new tap system. Bartender Candice Coop pours a pticher from the old tap behind the wall on Tuesday September 30.

Recently CNN reported that Pizza Hut would begin testing beer and wine delivery in certain cities around the United States, starting with Phoenix, Arizona. At this point the company isn’t saying where the next test markets will be but it’s certain not to be Salt Lake City or any other city here in Utah.
Anyone who’s lived in or visited Utah is aware of our extremely restrictive (some might say draconian) laws regarding the distribution and sale of alcohol, with the subject even being the butt of many jokes in pop culture.
The rules in place here in Utah are, frankly, bizarre. From the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control-run state liquor stores to the Zion Curtain to “3.2” beer, we are unique among states. These rules, put in place by the Legislature with the blessing of the most powerful lobbying organization in the state are supposed to save lives.
The problem is that, despite Utah having one of the lowest rates of consumption in America, they don’t work. According to a Salt Lake Tribune article from 2015, Utah had the seventh highest rate of alcohol poisoning deaths in the U.S. with 33, despite having a lower than average population. They contrasted this stat with data from Wisconsin, which despite having a population twice Utah’s had only 28 deaths by alcohol poisoning.
Utah also has some unique statistics when it comes to binge drinking, with those consuming excessive alcohol distributed relatively evenly across age demographics. Most states see a drop-off in binge drinking as people age and it’s been suggested that the restrictive laws in Utah contribute to rather than preventing it.
The Salt Lake Tribune has documented the lobbying efforts by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to keep these restrictive laws in place and, with a Legislature that’s over 80 percent LDS, those efforts are generally successful. This is despite folks of the LDS faith making up somewhere between 50 percent to 60 percent of the population (fewer when you don’t count inactives). Polling data also shows that most residents of Utah are in favor of at least some loosening of restrictions, and this trend holds even among LDS respondents. Unfortunately, members of the Legislature have chosen to ignore the wishes of their constituents and appease the leaders of their church instead.

As we can’t count on the Legislature to follow the wishes of its constituents, it’s time for the citizens of this state to take matters into our own hands. Project Bypass Utah was created to introduce a ballot referendum to reform our liquor laws. We’re currently in the discussion phase of how we go about this most effectively and welcome any and all input from the public.
Some ideas that have been put forth so far include abolishing the DABC, allowing retail outlets to sell full strength beer in the grocery section along with liquor and wine in separate portions of their stores, getting rid of the “Zion Curtain” and removing limits on the number of liquor licenses available. We realize some of these ideas may be unpopular with certain groups, so we propose some compromise in the form of increased penalties for any alcohol related crime. There’s a path forward that gives everyone what they want.
While I truly believe the legislators of Utah are doing what they feel is correct, the fact is that they’re not making decision based on evidence and they’re not fulfilling the wishes of their constituents. This must change and we’re no longer willing to wait for them to do the right thing. Help us bypass them.
Mike Bailey, Layton, is an Air Force veteran, father of five and a transplant to Utah. He is the founder of Project Bypass Utah, a loosely organized and varied group of individuals who seek to hold government accountable to the people of Utah.
Facebook: @ProjectBypassUtah
Twitter: @ProjectBypassUT
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