With Valentine’s Departure, The future of Alcohol and Tax Policy is Uncertain in Beehive State

Senator John Valentine (Republican)

On Monday, Senator John Valentine (Republican – Orem) was tapped by Governor Gary Herbert to serve on the Utah Tax Commission, marking the end to Valentine’s 25 years of legislative service to the state.

Though the announcement does not come as much of a surprise for the professional estate and taxation lawyer, having hinted at stepping away from his senate seat for years to pursue other offices such as Attorney General, several questions now arise as to who will fill the power vacuum – especially in regards to state liquor and tax policy.

Valentine, who has held several leadership positions over the years including Majority Whip and Senate President, was often the go-to lawmaker when it came to liquor reform in the state. Valentine, who does not drink due to religious objections, none the less sought to find a balance in  state alcohol policy by negotiating deals that were often seen as both pro and anti-booze at the same time – most notably in 2009 when Valentine worked with then-Governor Jon Huntsman to abolish private club legislation in bars and clubs but also erect the infamous “Zion Curtains” in restaurants in an attempt to separate alcohol preparation from diners.

Valentine has also attempted to modify the quota system related to license disbursement. Currently, Utah laws tie the number of total liquor licences available to one per 4,925 residents and bar and club licences are divided out at a rate of one per 7,850 residents. As bars and clubs attempt to meet demand, liquor licences have dried up. In prior years, Valentine has attempted to create release valves for the issue by allowing for the consolidation of liquor licences by organizations that hold multiple licences for various bars and restaurants (during the Oktoberfest dust up this past June, for example, lawmakers were surprised to learn that Snowbird Ski Resort currently holds 19 liquor licences for various facilities and events). With Valentine stepping away from his seat, any hopes of reform may be unlikely from a generally teetotaling legislature.

Though it is unknown if Valentine would have been reappointed as chair of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, it is generally agreed that the Senate has been more moderate in its tone and approach to legislation over the past two years that Valentine headed the gatekeeper committee. His predecessor, Senator Margaret Dayton (Republican – Orem), who served as chair of the Rules Committee for the four years prior, was seen as more contentious – though her return to the seat is far from assured. Having been the second-longest serving legislator behind Republican Senator Lyle Hillyard (who has served in the statehouse since 1981), Valentine’s departure will no doubt create power shifts for the upcoming 2015 legislative session.

However, Valentine was not just known for being the unofficial gatekeeper for all alcohol related policy; indeed, Valentine has also built a legislative career around reforming tax policy – making him an obvious choice for Governor Herbert’s nomination. The aforementioned tax attorney has averaged three tax related bills per legislative session for the past decade, an impressive feat considering the general complexity and resistance associated with attempting to pass any sort of taxation legislation. Examples of Valentine dipping his hand into state tax policy include attempting to raise the gas and food tax, investigate ways to alter fees on water resources, and extending tax credits for research institutions.

Valentine was also the unofficial parliamentarian and historian of the Utah Senate. Not only was Valentine quick to point out the modern history of most major pieces of legislation while the Senate was on the floor, he was also quick to bring the body to a stop in the event that a colleague was not following the occasionally complex process of debating and passing a piece of legislation through the legislative body.

Outside of the legislature, Valentine is the father of six with his wife, Karen, and is also a certified EMT and has been an active member of the Utah County Search and Rescue Team.

Speculation has already begun in regards to who might fill Valentine’s seat. Notable names include current house member Brian Green and former house members Holly Richardson, Ken Sumsion, and Steve Sandstrom. However the ultimate decision will rest in the hands of the Republican delegates. No date has been set for the delegates to name a successor, as Valentine’s appointment is pending the approval of the Utah State Senate, which is expected in September.

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