SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill unveiled in the Utah State Legislature could lead to the dismantling of so-called “Zion Curtains” in restaurants.
On Monday, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, quietly filed House Bill 339, which makes changes to liquor laws in bars and restaurants. Buried in the bill are lines that appear to tear down “separate preparation areas,” as they are officially known.
Instead, restaurants will be required to post a sign notifying the public that they serve alcohol, as well as create a bar or lounge area that prohibits minors.
"This could actually have some ability to be the compromise that all the sides could support," Powell said.
The lawmaker has voted in favor of similar legislation that has failed in the past. However, he's confident his proposal will be different.
The clause requiring a special bar/lounge area puts more focus on minors, which critics have argued other proposal didn't do enough to protect.
"It's just a political compromise," Powell said. "This is very similar to what I've seen in other states. I've lived in many different states across the country throughout my life, and it's just not unique to Utah at all to have a bar or lounge area where minors are not allowed to be."
In downtown Salt Lake City, the idea has already garnered praise from local restaurants.
"Having to have one person trapped in a back room, not being able to do the rest of their job just because you have to be in that little, 2x3 foot galley pouring all the drinks, it's really hard," said Lacey Slizecki, manager at Spitz.
The eatery is planning to open a second location in Sugarhouse, but managers are waiting to see what the legislature decides on Powell's bill before proceeding with construction.
"We ended up doing two different design plans, whether or not this bill passes," Slizecki said. "So, we have one plan that's no Zion Curtain and one plan- because we're doing a build out- and one plan that is like, full Zion curtain."
Critics of past legislation focused on the Zion Curtain are already raising concern.
In a statement to FOX 13, Gayle Ruzicka of the Utah Eagle Forum said, "I think we should just leave the law the way it is. First and foremost, we should be concerned about the children. Utah is already doing a good job of mixing the two environments without harming children."
Conservative think-tank, the Sutherland Institute, weighed in with a statement, as well.
"As we have stated in the past, we support policies that ensure restaurants remain restaurants and bars remain bars, such as the partition requirement for restaurants. Such policies ensure that the "morphing" phenomenon occurring in states like California, where restaurants become bars in the evening hours- effectively increasing the alcohol retail density with the predictable outcome of more over-consumption and more negative impacts from drinking- is not replicated here in Utah."
House lawmakers have sought to tear them down (the former House Speaker declared them “weird”) while Senate lawmakers fought to keep them up. After leaving the Senate last year, then-Sen. John Valentine said he wished he had required all Utah restaurants to have them.
Valentine is no longer in the Senate, and it remains to be seen how Rep. Powell’s bill will fare.