‘Zion Curtains’ to fall, but liquor costs will go up in proposed bill

Posted at 5:29 PM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-25 09:47:23-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- FOX 13 has confirmed a new bill being proposed in the Utah State Legislature would tear down the much-maligned "Zion Curtains" in restaurants, but there will be strings attached -- including a hike in the price of liquor.

The bill, being proposed by Republican leaders in the House and Senate, would finally remove the separate preparation areas that prevent you from seeing drinks being made in Utah restaurants. House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, detailed the legislation in an interview Tuesday afternoon with FOX 13.

"There is some common objectives here," he said. "If we can drive home the ability to reduce underage drinking and drunk driving, and do it in a way that's friendly to our restaurants, of course we want to do that."

A Zion Curtain inside a Utah restaurant. (FOX 13 file image)

A Zion Curtain inside a Utah restaurant. (FOX 13 file image)

In addition to removing Zion Curtains, the bill would also:

  • Increase training for servers in restaurants to prevent underage drinking, overconsumption and DUIs
  • Prohibit minors from being seated in an area around the bar
  • "Intent to dine," where customers must verbally state an intent to order food before being served alcohol would remain
  • Maintain a requirement that at least 70 percent of a restaurant's sales be in food
  • Streamline some liquor licenses

Liquor costs would go up. Right now, alcohol is sold at state-run stores at cost, plus an 86% markup. Rep. Wilson told FOX 13 it would go up by one or two points.

"That will generate some revenue to the state that will be used to pay for additional training," he said.

Past efforts to tear down Zion Curtains have gone nowhere. A bill proposed last year by Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, never made it out of a committee. Last month, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, hinted to FOX 13 that a bill may be in the works -- but it would come with terms.

Sen. Stevenson is a co-sponsor of this bill.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a powerful force on Utah's Capitol Hill, has repeatedly said it believes Utah liquor laws are fine how they are. Rep. Wilson said he has had conversations with the LDS Church about this bill.

"We have been in communication with them and I believe they are convinced we are addressing some of these other concerns around drunk driving and underage drinking adequately," he said. "And feel like, with that being the case, they're comfortable with us making some change and modernizing our liquor laws."

In an emailed statement to FOX 13, LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said they have "historically worked to support legislation that advances the safety and well-being of all state residents, particularly minors, and to avoid the societal costs and harms that often result from alcohol excess consumption and abuse, underage drinking, and DUIs."

"Any discussion of change in Utah's alcohol policy should require clear evidence that the proposed changes will not increase these kinds of negative societal costs. Particular policy elements are means to this end, and should be secondary to preserving the well-being of individuals and families in our communities," he wrote.

Melva Sine, the president of the Utah Restaurant Association, called the proposed bill "exciting news." Her group has campaigned heavily against the Zion Curtains. Sine said she met with Rep. Wilson, who told her the bill would "come as a shock" and she was pleasantly surprised.

Still, the Utah Restaurant Association said the devil is in the details and it wants to see the bill, but believed the restaurant industry could comply with the terms of the deal.

"Based on we learned today in the overall aspect, those are things the industry can do," she said.

The bill is expected to be filed in the Utah State Legislature next week.