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Utah lawmakers to consider more bar licenses and online liquor ordering, but no 'to-go' drinks

Posted at 2:33 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 08:15:30-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers will consider whether to create more highly-coveted bar licenses in Utah, the Senate Republican tasked with liquor legislation tells FOX 13.

"The people are moving in and when you look at what they want... we’re not as isolated as we used to be and yet we need to make sure we can keep the regulation where it needs to be," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, referencing the balance of hospitality and public safety.

The Utah State Legislature allocates one bar license per 10,200 people. That population quota is arbitrary, created by the legislature. It's lead to a limited number of bar licenses and businesses clamoring to get one. The lack of liquor licenses has gotten so bad, Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission publicly fumed at the legislature about it.

Sen. Stevenson told FOX 13 in a recent interview that perhaps it is time to revisit the issue.

"The demographic of the state of Utah has changed and that may cause us to want to review that more closely," he said.

Asked if that meant more bar licenses, Sen. Stevenson replied: "I can't see us contracting them."

It comes as the DABC commission itself is undergoing changes. The commission, among the most powerful regulatory bodies in the state because the DABC itself generates over a half-billion in sales, has seen new members nominated by Governor Spencer Cox.

The Utah State Senate recently confirmed two new members — Jennifer Tarazon and Natalie Randall — and re-confirmed Thomas Jacobson. With those votes, the DABC commission will now be majority women.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity to represent the diversity of our state, not just as a woman of color, but also as an out-of-state transplant, a social drinker and someone of a different religious denomination," said Tarazon, who is also the communications director for AARP in Utah, in her confirmation hearing last month.

Senators questioned Randall, whose day job is the director of the Utah Tourism Industry Association, about how she saw interacting with the legislature, the DABC and promoting tourism. Randall replied that of course the DABC enforces what the legislature passes, but added: "Specifically from the tourism industry, we always look to be gracious hosts."

While lawmakers are deliberating some changes to Utah liquor laws, Sen. Stevenson signaled some things were unlikely to happen. One of those is "to-go" cocktails, which bars and restaurants pushed as a way to keep afloat in the COVID-19 pandemic. They are likely to reach some compromise over the legal definition of beer, which puts some incredibly popular hard seltzers at risk in Utah, the senator indicated.

Sen. Stevenson said the idea of online ordering through state-run liquor stores may also be a possibility. The DABC has been designing new stores with the eventuality of "click and collect," where a customer can order from stock in a state-run store, walk in and pay for it (curbside delivery would not likely happen to guard against sales to minors).

"As far as being able to purchase something online? That’s pretty easy to do anymore. As long as they’re able to walk in, picking it up, showing ID, we’re OK with it," Sen. Stevenson said. "At least we’re OK with formulating legislation around that. Whether it passes, we all need to remember there’s quite a group of us and we don’t always agree."

Any legislation won't be considered until the 2022 session that begins in January.