Well, it looks like the “Zion Curtain” is here to stay – for at least another year. The Senate Business and Labor Committee decided Tuesday to study the issue during interim sessions later this year, rather than approve a bill to remove it.
SB 141 – Alcohol Amendments, sponsored by Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), provided for the removal of the so-called “Zion Curtain,” a 7-foot-2-inch partition that shields areas where alcohol is prepared in restaurants.
Dabakis believes the “weirdness factor” that ensues is bad for the economy. “It simply doesn’t work. It’s awkward. It’s annoying. It’s miserable. It creates a weirdness level that we don’t deserve. It ought to be torn down and it ought to be torn down immediately.”
Senator Todd Weiler (Republican – Woods Cross) pointed out that the law was patterned after an identical one in Wyoming. “Do you have any data whether tourism has dropped in Salt Lake City or Jackson Hole, Wyoming since the 7-foot wall law was enacted?” Weiler asked Dabakis. He responded by saying that there is no hard data, but he has heard plenty of complaints from tourists.
Stan Rasmussen, representing the Sutherland Institute, said taking down the partition will lead to increased alcohol use. “It effectively allows restaurants to morph into bars by ridding themselves of the biggest difference between a bar environment and a restaurant environment.”
Laura Bunker, president of United Families International, feels that the partition is necessary to protect children. “It shields children from the glamour of bartending and it sends a message that alcohol is different than soft drinks or juice and it deserves more care, because it is more dangerous.”
Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, believes the law creates unfair competition among pre-2009 restaurants that don’t have to have the partition and post-2009 restaurants that do. “We just have a confusion, and so many regulations that don’t apply equally.”
Pointing out that Utah isn’t the only state with issues in this department, Weiler read a list of bizarre liquor laws from other states. “To say that we’re the only state, that we’re somehow some outlier, that we stick out like a sore thumb, I’m just not buying it.”
Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams (Republican – Layton) believes more information is needed before moving forward. “We need data as to what the best policies are.”
“One more day of a “Zion Curtain” is one more day that we are not living up to our fulfillment as a state,” said Dabakis.
On the House side, Kraig Powell’s (Republican – Heber) HB 76 – Alcoholic Beverage Service Amendments would partially do away with the Zion Curtain, however the House has not even assigned that bill to a committee.