Lawmaker wants all Utah restaurants to have ‘Zion Curtains’

Posted at 5:32 PM, Sep 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-19 10:01:07-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Former Sen. John Valentine says he "made a mistake."

The Orem Republican, known for his conservative stance on liquor laws, said he regrets passing a bill that required only new restaurants to build 7-foot separate preparation areas for alcoholic drinks (nicknamed "Zion Curtains"). Instead, he said he should have required ALL restaurants to have them.

"It is my opinion that the grandfathering should be done away with so all restaurants are treated the same," Valentine told FOX 13.

Valentine, who has left the Senate to become the new chairman of the Utah State Tax Commission, said Thursday it was his hope that the legislature would pass a bill removing the grandfather clause, forcing the restaurants to build them. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control told FOX 13 on Thursday there are 436 restaurants that were grandfathered in under the law and do not have "Zion Curtains."

But other lawmakers have different plans.

"I am thinking about a bill that says, 'Tear down all of those walls,'" said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City.

Dabakis told FOX 13 that with Valentine no longer being the driving force behind Utah's liquor laws, things may loosen.

"Senator, er, commissioner Valentine is going to have a lot of sway on the tax commission, but I'm not sure he's going to have a lot of say on alcohol anymore," he said.

In past years, attempts to do away with the so-called "Zion Curtains" failed. Members of the Utah House attempted (House Speaker Becky Lockhart famously called them "weird") but measures never got past the Senate.

The "Zion Curtain" came about as part of a compromise that removed private club memberships and sponsorships at bars, but placed more requirements for restaurants that included the separate drink preparation areas, a 70-percent threshold for food sales, and diners stating an intent to order food before getting an alcoholic drink.

"Alcohol policy in Utah balances public safety against hospitality," Valentine said, defending his record on liquor legislation.

Asked if he believed that with his departure from the Senate, lawmakers would undo much of his bills he told FOX 13: "I hope not."