Report released on Utah liquor consumption

FILE - Manager Dustin Humes holds wine bottles in a small room which is out of the view of patrons at Vivace Restaurant Monday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers had considered repealing a law that requires restaurants to mix alcoholic drinks out of view from patrons. Commonly known as “Zion curtains,” the mandate went into effect for restaurants in 2010 as part of a compromise when lawmakers lifted a mandate for bars to operate as members-only social clubs. The rule does not apply to restaurants that opened before 2010. The House passed a bill that keeps the practice of "Zion curtains" in place and the bill now heads to the Governor's desk. Restaurant owners and tourism officials say the law is unnecessary and hinders tourism. But some lawmakers say that removing the mandate could encourage underage drinking and influence customers to drink too much. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A new report on alcohol consumption will provide Utah lawmakers a wider and sharper lens into how well the state’s stringent liquor laws are working, Utah lawmakers said Friday afternoon.

The data could lead lawmakers to question if some of those laws are necessary, said Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden.

The recently compiled numbers, released Friday, don’t propel arguments against singular rules like the state’s “Zion curtains,” the nicknames for barriers in Utah restaurant that bar drink-mixing from public view, Wilcox said. But the data could spark questions, he added, about whether current laws help keep teens from drinking and cut down on drunk driving.

“None of us like to see DUI rates increasing or teen drinking, anything like that,” Wilcox said. But the report’s findings that the majority of alcohol consumed in Utah comes from home, he said, could lead lawmakers to debate whether the restaurant barriers help curb drinking in the state, as some legislators have cited in past debates.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, praised the first report released by the state’s Alcohol Abuse Tracking Committee. The report, scheduled to come out every year from now on, will prove “incredibly important” because it will allow lawmakers to track the state’s progress, Lockhart said.

Debating the state’s liquor laws has proved frustrating in the past because the data available to lawmakers came from other states, said Wilcox, who is a member of the committee tracking alcohol abuse.

The report, which relies on data from Utah’s Department of Public Safety, found that the number of deaths related to driving under the influence has declined since 2003. From 2011 to 2013, DUI-related deaths in Utah fell 6.8 percent, according to the report. But in 2013, the number of underage drunk drivers went up fourfold.

Wilcox unsuccessfully tried last year to repeal the law, known as the “Zion Curtain.” The name is a reference to Utah’s legacy as home to the Mormon church, which teaches its members to abstain from alcohol.

He’s reviving that effort this year, but some of some of his fellow Republicans at the Legislature argue the current requirements keep restaurants from resembling bars. They also argue that preparing alcoholic drinks in back rooms or behind partitions helps reduce underage drinking and overconsumption.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last month released a video and statement calling on lawmakers to leave the state’s liquor laws alone. The church said the restrictions are reasonable and help curtail irresponsible drinking.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who has sponsored much of Utah’s alcohol-related legislation in recent years, said Friday afternoon that he had not yet seen the report but wanted to review its data on alcohol-consumption rates, especially among underage drinkers.

“I’m basically looking at how the statutes we have are working,” he said of the report.

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