The ‘Zion Curtain’ may not be headed for the scrap heap

Zion CurtainNot so fast on tearing down the Zion Curtain, Utah Senate Republican leaders said Thursday.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, in his Wednesday night State of the State addressed, said this legislative session may be the time to look at further alcohol reforms.

Some in the Legislature, and several in the media, quickly drew the conclusion that Herbert is backing the removal of the 7-foot wall that now legally must surround new restaurant liquor mixing areas – the so-called Zion Curtain that is much ridiculed by the press and more liberal members of Utah society.

However, at their daily media accessibility gathering in Senate President Wayne Niederhauser’s office, only one member of the four-guy Republican leadership team – Senate Majority Assistant Whip Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City – rose his hand when UtahPolicy asked for a show of support for repealing the Zion Curtain.

Niederhauser, R-Sandy; Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe; and Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton; all cautioned that they are not ready to commit to tearing down the wall.

In fact, Adams said he doesn’t believe there is support now among most senators to do that this session.

Actually, Herbert didn’t call for the fall of the curtain in his address. He didn’t specifically mention the curtain – a 7-ft wall behind which employees of recently-licensed restaurants must mix drinks and pour beer mugs.

He talked about some current things in liquor law not working well, and said that the media’s attention on one part of the law – (the curtain) – fell short; and other aspects that are good, and working, should stay, and some that are not working and probably need to go.

Herbert said: “I know that many in the media have focused narrowly on the issue of dispensing restrictions — but that would be merely one aspect of this updating.

“This is about public health and public safety. We will ensure that our regulations — coupled with additional state resources — focus on education, prevention, and enforcement practices that are proven to further reduce underage drinking, alcohol abuse and impaired driving.”

Some reporters and media outlets jumped on those statements to mean the Zion Curtain – certainly the most visible aspect of what many believe are Utah’s odd liquor laws – may be going away.

Adams and Niederhauser said they have not seen evidence that the curtain IS NOT working.

In fact, Adams went on at some length to say that he doesn’t want children to be subjected to seeing alcohol portrayed as something fun, or adult, or exciting.

He doesn’t want, for example, adults at the next table to his family’s engaged in something that could be a “teachable” moment – flaming drinks or other actions that could appeal to children or glamorize drinking.

Okerlund said bills by House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton – praised by Herbert for months of alcohol reform work – have not yet been introduced.

So how the curtain may be dealt with, and other, perhaps more important reforms, are unknown.

However, Okerlund said there is a feeling among lawmakers that the 2017 session is a good time to review state alcohol policies again.