Herbert Promises Liquor Law Reform, Job Creation in State of State Address

Gary HerbertAre we going to see the end of the Zion Curtain – the much-made-fun-of 7-foot wall that keeps patrons of relatively-new restaurants from seeing liquor and beer being poured?

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert stopped short of making that promise Wednesday night in his annual State of the State address before a joint session of the Utah State Legislature.

But Herbert said he’s been talking to leading lawmakers for several months, and expect a new round of liquor law reform coming in this 45-day general session, which started Monday.

Herbert said in looking at these reforms, “We will keep and enhance what works, and repeal what does not.”

There is little empirical evidence that the Zion Curtain does anything to stop or reduce underage drinking, excessive drinking or DUI enforcement – three keys that Herbert said must be kept as a focus as alcohol law changes.

He hinted that the media has improperly focused on the Zion Curtain, when a bigger picture of alcohol reform needs to take place.

Still, the barrier was part of a deal with leaders of the LDS Church several years ago when what is commonly called “liquor by the drink” was allowed in Utah for the first time in generations.

It remains to be seen if doing away with the silly curtain – for example, a glass ceiling had to be built over a bar in the new Eccles Broadway Theater which has just opened – will actually happen this year.

Several leading legislators have hinted to UtahPolicy that the Zion Curtain may fall – but they declined to go on the record, waiting for Herbert to make announcements during his Wednesday speech.

Herbert announced a new initiative called Talent Ready Utah.

Over the next four years – his last term as governor – 40,000 new jobs will be created, with the help of 100s of business partners, for graduating high schoolers. They will be trained in specific job needs.

“Our children will find meaningful employment. We will have a qualified workforce,” he said.

In addition, special efforts will be made to create 25,000 new jobs for the 25 counties that are not along the Wasatch Front.

While Utah is leading the nation in all kinds of economic and job-creation areas, many rural Utahns are still lagging behind, and have not had the opportunities of urban dwellers.

Another point of interest: Herbert said Utah will get $35 million from the international settlement by Volkswagen over cheating diesel engine emission vehicles.

A special fund will be set up, and the Department of Environmental Quality will develop programs whereby the money can be used to clean up air pollution where needed, especially along the Wasatch Front.

Herbert said over the next year he will tour Utah, pointing out businesses and other successful efforts at clean air.

And, he added, he will be meeting with and chiding businesses that are not doing their part in cleaning up air pollution.

Finally, while not mentioning Our Schools Now by name, Herbert reiterated that raising the state income tax for schools is the wrong move.

He pointed out – and this was rather interesting – that the Utah governor does not have much say in public education.

That is up to the elected State Board of Education, the 41 local school districts, and the Legislature, said Herbert, which is specifically tasked by the state Constitution for the maintenance of an adequate public education system.

Herbert is not washing his hands in this area, it seems.

He said he would use the bully pulpit of the governorship to push for income tax exemption reform and sales tax collection on the $150 million to $200 million – owed, but not paid – in online retail purchases.

A standing ovation came when Herbert said the exploitation of the homeless and addicted in Utah will end.

He specifically praised House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, for his continued support and funding for helping the homeless in downtown Salt Lake City.

It was a kind mention of Hughes, who over the last two days has had to deal with what seems an unfair accusation by a convicted swindler associated with trial of former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

In any case, the specific mention of liquor law reform in the State of the State address could lead to some interesting politics over the next several months.