SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers passed a bill out of committee on Friday mandating that at least two members of the state’s liquor commission be consumers of alcohol, a requirement that’s designed to provide a stronger voice for responsible adult drinkers in a state dominated by teetotaling Mormons.
Approximately 70 percent of Utah residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which prohibits its members to drink alcohol. There are five members of the liquor commission, which manages the state-run liquor business and implements Utah’s tight alcohol restrictions.
“When a government is immersed in something, as it is in alcohol, it should have a voice from those who are being regulated,” said Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake City, the sponsor of House Bill 193.
The state’s tourism industry has frequently complained that Utah’s liquor laws send lucrative conventions and skiers fleeing to neighboring Colorado.
Restaurants in Utah are required to mix drinks out of a patron’s sight and bars are limited in how much liquor they can put in a drink. Also, tap beer cannot be higher than 4 percent alcohol by volume, a rate that’s slightly lower than the alcohol content of light beers.
Doughty had originally wanted to require that two commission members be “regular” consumers of alcohol who drank at least once a month. Committee amendments eliminated that specific requirement.
The bill approved on Friday and sent to the full House states only that two members must sign an affidavit that they drank alcohol for at least a year before being appointed and will continue to do so while serving on the commission.
But with less than two weeks left in the session, the measure will likely have a tough time passing the full Legislature.
Other committee members expressed doubts Friday about requiring that 40 percent of the commission be drinkers. That ratio isn’t really in line with the state’s consumption rate, said Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove.
Even if the bill passes the House, it could be met with resistance among Senate Republicans. Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said that while he supports having alcohol consumers on the commission, he is concerned about restricting the governor’s ability to make appointments by mandating it.
“The governor needs to appoint the best qualified people,” he said. “Appointing some drinkers and some non-drinkers is a good idea, but I don’t think we need to put it into statute.”
The liquor commission is the only permitting board in the state that specifically prohibits industry representation. Valentine said that rule will remain in place for the foreseeable future, although bar owners, wholesalers and other holders of liquor licenses will be allowed to serve on advisory boards that would be created by a bill he is sponsoring.