SALT LAKE CITY – A new report on alcohol consumption provides Utah lawmakers a wider and sharper lens into whether the state’s stringent liquor laws have the desired effects and could lead lawmakers to question if they are necessary, a Utah lawmaker said.
The recently compiled numbers, released Friday, don’t propel arguments against singular rules like the state’s “Zion curtains,” the nicknames for Utah restaurant barriers that bar drink-mixing from public view, said Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden. But the data could spark questions, Wilcox acknowledged, about whether current laws keep teens from drinking and cut down on drunk driving.
“None of us like to see DUI rates increasing or teen drinking, anything like that,” Wilcox said. But the report’s findings that the majority of alcohol consumed in Utah comes from home, he said, could lead lawmakers to debate whether the restaurant barriers help curb drinking in the state, as some lawmakers have cited in past debates.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, praised the first report released by the state’s Alcohol Abuse Tracking Committee that is slated to come out every year from now on. It will be “incredibly important” because it will allow lawmakers to track in detail any trends in drinking rates, drunk driving and other factors, she said.
Debating the state’s liquor laws has proved frustrating in the past because the data available to lawmakers came from other states, said Wilcox, who is a member of the tracking committee.
The report, which relies on data from Utah’s Department of Public Safety, found that the number of deaths related to driving under the influence has declined since 2003. Between 2011 and 2013, DUI-related deaths in Utah fell 6.8 percent, according to the report.
Wilcox unsuccessfully tried last year to repeal the law, known as the “Zion Curtain.” The name is a reference to Utah’s legacy as home to the Mormon church, which teaches its members to abstain from alcohol.
He’s reviving that effort this year, but some of some of his fellow Republicans at the Legislature argue the current requirements keep restaurants from resembling bars. They also argue that preparing alcoholic drinks in back rooms or behind partitions helps reduce underage drinking and overconsumption.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last month released a video and statement calling on lawmakers to leave the state’s liquor laws alone. The church said the restrictions are reasonable and help curtail irresponsible drinking.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who has sponsored much of Utah’s alcohol-related legislation in recent years, said Friday afternoon that he had not yet seen the report but wanted to review its data on alcohol-consumption rates, especially among underage drinkers.
“I’m basically looking at how the statutes we have are working,” he said of the report.