(KCPW News) Few issues crystalize the alcohol debate in Utah better than the so-called Zion Curtain. Supporters deem it a necessary protection for families at restaurants. Detractors say that it does little to prevent drinking and, frankly, it’s a bit weird.
If you live in Utah, you probably know what a Zion Curtain is, but here’s a quick refresher: in most restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages, they are required to set up a partition where those beverages are prepared, thus preventing restaurant patrons from viewing the preparation of said beverages. That partition is known as a Zion Curtain—a satirical mash-up of the “Iron Curtain” and a reference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (The LDS Church has been an outspoken opponent of alcohol consumption for years.)
Utah is the only state that enforces such a law, and those in the restaurant and tourism industry say the rule can be unfair to some businesses and confusing for patrons.
That’s why Republican Rep. Kraig Powell has brought HB 285 to the Utah legislature this year. His bill would give every alcohol-serving restaurant the option to remove the Zion Curtain if they instead post a sign near the entrance that warns customers that alcohol is served at the establishment. The bill would also restrict minors from dining in lounge or bar areas—which would be a new restriction.
The House Revenue and Taxation Committee had a heated exchange after Powell’s presentation. Republican Rep. Jacob Anderegg said that this is a matter of protecting kids from alcohol, no matter what anyone thinks of the Zion Curtain.
“I think we have a fundamental right in this state to protect our kids,” Anderegg said. “Is the Zions wall perfect? No. Do I personally think it’s stupid? Yes. But I cannot say that in good conscience I’m OK blurring the lines, and I have to vote against this bill.”
Some committee members, like Republican Rep. Doug Sagers, were frustrated that alcohol policy reform seems to come up time and time again.
“In 2009, SB 187 was passed by the Utah legislature and signed into law. This confirmed important operational differences between restaurants on one hand and bars on the other hand,” Sagers said. “A short five years later, we’re back with the same group requesting change to the law again.”
But after being grilled by his colleagues, Powell came back with some bite of his own.
“Have you ever been in a real bar? It’s not a restaurant,” said Powell. “All restaurants must maintain sales of 70 percent of food. Your constituents who drink alcohol, they do not go to restaurants in order to have a bar experience or in order to consume alcohol.”
“But guess what?” he continued. “There are many people in this world, and many people in Utah, that it is customary when they eat to also drink alcohol.”
Before voting on the bill, Sagers reiterated his skepticism that tearing down the Zion Curtain would do enough to help families trying to avoid exposure to alcohol.
“If this bill’s about driving revenue, McDonald’s, Arby’s, Wendy’s—they’re going to receive a lot of business. I just hope they have fine dining with linen on the table and candles for me and my wife,” Sagers said.
But Powell urged the committee to set aside their personal biases when considering alcohol legislation.
“As we, here, as non-drinkers, make legislative policy for alcohol, I think we always need to do so with a large dose of reservation, wondering exactly if we really understand the implications of the policy that we’re passing,” said Powell.
Powell’s HB 285 squeaked out of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee by an 8-7 vote. It’ll be heard next on the House floor, where it’s certain to face substantial scrutiny.
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