SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's so-called Zion curtain would be torn down and customers wouldn't have to order food to get a drink if one lawmaker has his way in loosening the state's famously strict liquor laws.
The proposal from Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, comes just days after the Mormon church urged legislators to keep existing regulations in place in a hefty multimedia policy statement featuring one of the faith's top leaders drawing a line against efforts to ease up on liquor restrictions.
Powell, a member of the Mormon church, said Monday that his conversations with owners and workers in Park City's restaurants and resorts led him to craft the measure that would allow bartenders to pour and mix alcoholic drinks in plain sight instead of back rooms or behind partitions. It would also allow customers at restaurants to order an alcoholic drink without having food.
The law requiring drinks be made behind partitions has come to be known as the "Zion curtain" in a nod to Utah's legacy as home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A proposal to get rid of the rule died in the Senate last year. It likely faces significant odds this year, especially in light of the Mormon church's effort last week to retain regulations.
Lawmakers returned to the state Capitol on Monday for their annual legislative session, which lasts five weeks.
Powell said he met recently with church leaders, who told him the two rules he wants to scrap are key elements in curbing irresponsible drinking. Powell shares that end goal, but said he doesn't think the current rules assist it.
He fears that such restrictions prevent people from visiting the state's attractions, which include world-class ski runs and ample convention center space. Powell said visitors question what's going into their drinks when restaurant staffers disappear, and servers consider navigating the barricades a headache.
The current rule requiring servers to ask customers whether they plan to eat before ordering a glass of wine or beer leads to very awkward conversations, he said.
"The servers don't know how really to ask that properly sometimes without offending people," said Powell, an attorney who has been in the Legislature since 2009. "It's something they're not used to in other places."
The new proposal from Powell echoes cries from Utah's restaurant, bar and tourism industries that have successfully lobbied lawmakers to slowly loosen Utah's rules governing the sale of beer and alcohol in recent years, including nixing a requirement that bars operate as members-only social clubs.
Still, aside from the laws Powell has targeted, liquor licenses in Utah are issued to restaurants based on state population quotas, creating a long waiting list. In establishments that do serve alcohol, portion sizes are tightly controlled. And other alcohol sales are limited to state-run liquor stores, where beer is not refrigerated and ancillary items such as margarita mix aren't sold.