It might be easier to get a cocktail or beer in Utah after the Legislature finishes its special session today (June 20). Lawmakers are expected to consider increasing the number of liquor licenses available statewide, an issue that has divided the GOP leadership there.
Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert says a shortage of liquor licenses for restaurants is hurting business. “One vital economic development matter needing timely resolution is the number of liquor licenses available statewide,” Herbert said in a statement convening the Utah Legislature into special session. Restaurant chains had told lawmakers they were hesitant to expand in Utah because they couldn't get liquor licenses.
The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has been out of restaurant licenses for the past couple of months, saysThe Deseret News.
Republican Senate President Michael Waddoups has been a long-standing opponent of expanding the number of licenses, in part, because data had shown that young people were getting alcohol in two places — at home and at restaurants, reportsThe Salt Lake Tribune.
To address that concern, legislation from state Senator John Valentine that would add 90 new licenses also would add more compliance officers at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and provide more funding for state highway troopers to be on the lookout for drunken drivers.
Valentine's measure includes a way to pay for the additional enforcement by increasing restaurant license and renewal fees by 10 percent. The initial fee for a full-service permit is $2,000, The Deseret News reports. A limited-service permit costs $750.
Of the states in the West that control liquor sales, Utah has the tightest restaurant license quotas, The Salt Lake Tribune said in an editorial last month calling for lawmakers to loosen the limit. Utah currently limits permits to one full-service restaurant license for every 4,925 people. In Idaho, it's one license per 1,500 people. In Washington, all of the various licenses for alcoholic beverages combined cannot exceed one per 1,200 people, the editorial said.
During the special session, the governor also wants lawmakers to address a $25 million shortfall in the education budget — the “result of an accounting error,” The Salt Lake Tribune says — and rules for when the Attorney General's office can retain outside counsel and experts.