During their daily press conference Thursday, Republican Majority Whip, Stewart Adams (Layton), and President of the Senate, Wayne Niederhauser (Sandy), were quick to dampen early enthusiasm about a forthcoming bill from House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, (Republican – Kaysville) that, among other things, is intended to remove the infamous Zion Curtain – the physical barrier new restaurants have to erect in order to separate the mixing of drinks from the general public – and more specifically to separate the mixing of drinks from the eyes of minors.
“Utah has some of the best outcomes from our alcohol laws on the planet. we have lead the nation, we have one of the lowest DUI rates, one of the lowest rates of alcohol use, and much of that I think is due to our social norms here, but we have had alcohol laws that have actually served us very, very well.” Adams told reporters adding that he is only interested in alcohol policy that curbs underage drinking and irresponsible drinking from adult.
President Niederhauser seemed almost dismissive of calls to bring down the Zion Curtain.
“Does everyone in the community know what that is? What is the Zions (sic) Curtain? It is a separate preparation area, and when it is communicated l think the community has a different idea about the negatives. It has been unaffectionately called the Zions Curtain because of the real or perceived influence the LDS Church has on alcohol policy here in the state.” Niederhauser said, adding that “we don’t want to glamorize alcohol and it is all about trying to have children not even begin to consume alcohol.”
As an aside, Niederhauser said that “I am with my legislative colleagues from all over the United States, and were not as backward as people think about alcohol policy, pointing out that Virginia Haden laws against drinking outside of designated areas, such as in a hotel, while Wyoming has a separate liquor preparation area law as well.
Niederhauser did acknowledge the fact that the current laws around what is a restaurant and a bar, along with the grandfather clause associated with the Zion Curtain, make things legislatively difficult, but felt that if a distinction could be found, “the Zions Curtain comes down.”
Upon hearing this, Senator Adams would quickly add that “I would say if we can’t [find the distinction between the two] the probability goes down, so there is a high probability that nothing will happen, depending on what the options are.”
When asked about restaurants such as Squatters, Uinta, or Wasatch, which serve cocktails but also host families, Niederhauser responded that “it’s environmental – I don’t want restaurants being morphed into bars and all the negatives that go with bars. So, we have got to create some separation there.”
“Anyone in advertising understands what you are trying to do with the product, if you are trying to sell a product or sensationalize it, I’m not worried about the adults…but when you bring children in and you are sensationalizing a product that has challenges to it, that they are restricted from using…and you are making it look like a fun, desirable event, that is a problem for me.” Adams noted, adding that he feels alcohol policy works to make sure “that when you walk into a restaurant, they don’t look like bars, and it doesn’t appear to be an event that children want to be involved in.” Adams
When asked what Adams means by “sensationalized” advertising of alcohol, Adams responded that he “probably is not the expert to talk to, but I can imagine somebody, you know, lighting something on fire and making it look fun – I’m not a drinker, but maybe the drinkers can help me know how they are mixed and what is kind of fun about the way mix them or what happens – I have no idea. But I think the fact it could be done is a big deal.”
When pressed further about if Adams feels it is the preparation or the consumption of alcohol that children are drawn to, he responded that “I think it is the messaging that it is appropriate, enjoyable fun and something that they ought to try. And if that is something that messaged, that is inappropriate.” When reminded that children are able to view the presentation and consumption of a drink at a restaurant, he replied that “I’m not sure that is as big of a deal, I just don’t know. Right now you have Swig (a chain of retailers that create specialty soft drinks) that mix up a Diet Coke with a little bit of flavoring to it, I don’t know if that’s that big of a detail, but I do believe the sensationalizing of the liquor is.”
When reporters noted that former Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart spoke against the Zion Curtain, she would point out to her children alcohol being consumed at restaurants and use it as a “teaching moment” to impress open her children her families values and explain the dangers of drinking, Adams responded by stating that “I like to be able to go into a restaurant and not have teachable moments – I actually like going in to a restaurant and have an environment I enjoy being in with my family and not having to look over my shoulder and see what is next to me – and I think most Utahns agree with that.”
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund (Republican – Monroe) closed the discussion by offering those looking for reform a glimmer of hope.
“I think we are going to have a really good debate in the legislature this year in both houses on alcohol policy, and I think that debate is going to move forward.” Okerlund said, adding that the legislature has “looked piecemeal at alcohol policy…and I think this year we do have an opportunity to take an overall look at what the policy is and how it affects business, how it affects individuals, how it affects children, and how maybe we can do all of those things a little bit better.”