New liquor legislation for restaurant chains proposed

Posted at 7:55 PM, Nov 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-15 01:42:41-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah lawmaker unveiled new legislation that would free up more of the highly-coveted liquor licenses.

"The proposal today is a solution to solve a major problem, and that is chains either not coming to Utah or leaving Utah because they can't get sufficient licenses," Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said Wednesday.

Valentine proposed a "master license" that he hopes would lure chains to build in Utah. It would also free up liquor licenses for small, local businesses.

Utah limits the number of licenses it hands out based on population quotas. Restaurants and bars have had to wait months to get a full-service license that lets them serve everything from beer and wine to hard spirits. For some national chains, that wait is too long.

"I've had contact with national chains who want to expand into the state, but they need the predictability to be certain that they can get a quota license before they make that expansion," said Valentine.

Under his proposal, Valentine would let a restaurant chain apply for a full-service liquor license and pay a $1,500 fee for a "master license." That would enable them to sub-license however many restaurants they build in the state (for a fee). It would actually free up licenses for other businesses who seek it.

But there is a catch.

"The only qualification in the bill is you must own all the restaurants, and then if you'd like to have the master license you can apply for it," Valentine said.

When it was presented to the Utah State Legislature's interim Business and Labor Committee, the bill received tentative support from Valentine's fellow lawamakers and the Utah Restaurant Association.

"This would give them the opportunity to come into Utah and know that even if they were not going to open additional restaurants for another couple of years, they could do so and know they had the assurance of a license," said Melva Sine with the Utah Restaurant Association.

But Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Weber County, questioned the punishments handed out for chains that commit liquor law violations, wondering if it was too harsh. Under Valentine's bill, if a restaurant violated a state law, authorities had the ability to punish either the server, the restaurant or the entire chain.