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Zion Curtain Hanging In The Balance As State Looks To Revamp Liquor Laws

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Julia Ritchey, KUER
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Gov. Gary Herbert discusses the first week of the legislative session with reporters on Friday.

Gov. Gary Herbert says he would support legislation that could bring down the so-called Zion Curtain — that’s the 7-foot wall restaurants are required to build to shield young customers from seeing alcoholic beverages being made.

 

House Majority leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Kaysville, are expected to introduce legislation soon that could modernize some of the state’s liquor laws.

 

Gov. Gary Herbert says he would back such a measure, telling reporters on Friday that he thinks there are better ways to address public health and safety concerns than erecting a barrier.

 

“I think it’s hard to find the evidence on what the wall does, and it’s not applied equally,” he said. “And that’s probably a concern for me and others — that it’s not equitable. So if in fact we could get something to replace that with, it’s probably a trade-off.”

 

One trade-off being floated is increasing the state’s markup on alcohol from 86 to 87 percent, and funneling those extra funds toward alcohol abuse prevention.

 

But Herbert says he wants all regulations reviewed, not just the Zion Curtain, and to put policies in place that will actually be effective in reducing underrage drinking and drunk driving.  

 

Asked about whether the state would consider privatization as part of that discussion, Herbert says probably not.

 

“I’m not ready to go to privatization,” he says. “It comes up every year, so it’s not like it’s not going to be part of the discussion. I think there’s a downside to privatization. We’ve certainly avoided having a culture of alcohol here in Utah. It’s served us very well.”

 

The governor says he made a courtesy call to leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to let them know a review is underway. The LDS Church has opposed previous repeal efforts.

 

According to a Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll, more than 70 percent of Utahns are opposed to the curtain, which has attracted more than few unflattering headlines nationally.

 

Restaurant owners, too, say the barriers are costly and cumbersome and stigmatize drinking among responsible adults.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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