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Legislator Wants All Restaurants to Have Separate Drink Prep Area

Flickr: Matteo Paciotti

Republican Senator John Valentine is well known for his involvement with shaping Utah’s liquor laws, but he’s now voicing some regret about the legislation he sponsored.

If you look carefully inside any newer restaurant in Utah that serves cocktails, you’ll notice that you won’t actually see any of the liquor. That’s because Utah law requires all spirits in restaurants to be stored, and drinks prepared and served from behind a solid and permanent structural barrier. That is, unless that restaurant already had a full-service restaurant liquor license prior to 2009. Republican Senator John Valentine sponsored the legislation that created the so-called “Zion Curtain.” But he’s now saying that creating disparity between old and new restaurants was a mistake.

“To try to bring equality to the various restaurants so that they’re all playing on the same playing field, I’d like to see the grandfathering of the older restaurants with their preparation areas done away with,” Valentine says.

But he also says he’d be interested in looking at making changes to how the legislature defines what a preparation area is.

“For example, could we have a preparation area that is in public view but only adults? Could we have preparation area that is an adjunct to a kitchen facility?”

While Valentine doesn’t have any specific bill prepared, any legislation attempting to do away with the grandfathered preparation areas would likely face stiff opposition from the Utah House of Representatives. In 2012, members of the House almost unanimously supported a bill that would have done away with the requirement.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, says he’s considering running similar legislation this year.

“I just look at the Zion Curtain and I see weirdness, and I see the loss of tourism, and I see the loss of economic development, and I say, this is ridiculous and it ought to go,” Dabakis says.

Sen. Valentine will be resigning his seat as a senator by the end of the month to become the head of the Utah Tax Commission. 

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