Changes unveiled for Utah liquor agency oversight

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s liquor commission would increase by two members and profits from booze sales would go directly into state coffers under changes proposed Wednesday by lawmakers. The management structure of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is the focus of this year’s liquor law amendments, which will be included in two separate bills. The changes are prompted by a series of negative audits about the state’s liquor operations and multiple conflicts that have been discovered within the DABC. Through House Bill 354, the DABC would no longer collect profits from the sale of liquor, beer and wine. Instead, the revenue from the 86 percent mark-up on booze would go directly to the Tax Commission and deposited into the state’s general fund. “Each year, we had a division bragging about much money they could make,” said sponsoring Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden. “While it was great to have a source of revenue during these recent lean times, I was never comfortable with an agency trying to sell as much liquor as possible.” Because they were always trying to increase profits, Wilcox said DABC managers weren’t sufficiently focused on the primary purpose of controlling the distribution of alcohol in Utah. Along with shifting the control of revenue, the oversight of the state liquor agency will be directly in the hands of the governor. Senate Bill 66 will boost the current five-member liquor commission to seven and the DABC director will be appointed by the governor to a four-year term. Currently, the director is appointed by the commission and doesn’t have a limited term. That led to a lack of oversight, said sponsoring Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem. “This is a stronger supervisory model,” Valentine said. While the bill sponsors describe the proposed changes as significant, they acknowledge that the impact on consumers will be negligible. Most notably, bar licenses will not increase despite an ongoing shortage that can force bar owners to wait for months for a permit to sell alcoholic drinks without serving food. “I don’t think we’re accommodating the responsible drinker,” said Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City. “That is an area where we still need to work.” Although House Bill 354 and Senate Bill 66 were only released publicly Wednesday, they have been worked on behind closed doors for months by legislators, industry representatives, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and lobbyists for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although there could be small changes, it is expected that both bills will easily pass the Legislature.

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