OK, that is a very mixed metaphor. But you get the idea.
Monday the House, with only a little resistance, approved HB218, a bill that reworks a number of state liquor laws aimed at better accommodating the drinking public and businesses that sell booze. That bill goes to the Senate.
Meanwhile, SB167 passed the Senate 2nd reading calendar on Monday and will be voted on again in the Senate, as is that body’s procedure.
SB167 would create a new “master” liquor license that chain restaurants, like the Cheesecake Factory, could purchase, thus ensuring that new outlets wouldn’t have to wait for a restaurant liquor license to come up for sale by the liquor commission.
The bill says if a restaurant has five outlets or more, its owners can buy the “master” license at the same price as individual restaurant licenses – so it will actually cost a chain more money to license under one “master” license.
Ten years ago it’s likely neither HB218, as amended, nor SB167 would have passed the Utah Legislature.
Now they are debated quickly and fly through – all with the unspoken blessings of leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Around 80 percent of both the House and Senate membership, both Republicans and Democrats, are faithful Mormons, refusing tobacco and alcohol as the faith requires.
And state control of booze has long been a sensitive subject on Capitol Hill.
But ever since LDS Church leaders agreed to basically have liquor by the drink several years ago, tweaks to state liquor law have gone much more smoothly.
You even saw a West Jordan GOP lawmaker in the House amending HB218 on Monday to “better accommodate my constituents” – read that to be restaurants in the West Jordan area that want to either start selling liquor, or they are building new establishments that want to sell liquor.
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, proposed an amendment that changes the complicated population-to-license formula to allow more restaurant liquor permits.
In days gone by, that would have been a motion made by a House Democrat, and it would have quickly gone down in defeat.
Peterson said his amendment would basically make the number of licenses for social clubs and dining clubs the same, and come July where there is now a wait of three restaurants that want liquor permits, that number will drop to zero.
“Our population isn’t static,” said Peterson, elected in 2010. And the number of state liquor licenses need to change to meet demand.
Meanwhile, SB167 sponsor, Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, one of the main authors of the liquor-by-the-drink bill of several years ago, wants to allow restaurant chains to operate all of their establishments in the state under one “master” license, if they so choose.
In debate Monday, Valentine stressed that SB167, HB218 and “several other bills still being drafted” will take a holistic approach to further liquor reform this session.
New and better liquor law enforcement will add more fines for consumption violations, with that money going to several places, including another full-time person in the Attorney General’s office, the “new pinch point” in liquor license violations and prosecutions.
Valentine said the “master” license will allow a chain to buy “prediction” in whether and how a chain can get a new restaurant license.
You might be able to get a drink at Mr. X’s in Park City, but not a Mr. X’s in St. George – bad for business, bad for expansion planning, bad on customers and operators alike, says Valentine, who is an LDS bishop.
Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan, said he was against Peterson’s amendment, “and I have problems with the bill (HB218) as well.”
Draxler espoused a sentiment much seen in liquor law legislative debate of the 1980s, 1990s and before the liquor-by-the-drink bill passed several years ago: The less sale of liquor in Utah, the better.“I believe in our (restrictive) system of tying liquor licenses to our population,” said Draxler. “It has served us well.”
Draxler said he attended a state liquor control seminar held last September in Provo, where liquor consumption experts from Johns Hopkins, Duke and other leading universities – “with no connection to Utah and certainly no connection” to the LDS Church -- said Utah shouldn’t “move in the other direction other states are taking” in liberalizing liquor laws.
Rather, said Draxler, the experts said the other states should move more in Utah’s direction of stricter liquor control.
“They said (Utah) has it right,” said Draxler. “We should be very careful about doing this” – passing HB218.
Well, that wasn’t the feeling of the House, or even many of the Republicans in the House. HB218 passed 60-8, and now goes to the Senate. You can see the vote here.
Only eight Republicans out of the 61 in the House voted against the bill.
SB167 passed 27-1 on 2nd reading. That vote is here.
The elephant is changing his spots.