Updated post about January 7th committee hearing HERE.
While Utah's left-wing media and blogosphere have been obsessing with socially-conservative lawmakers like Chris Buttars, Margaret Dayton, and even Curt Bramble, Senate President Mike Waddoups (R-Taylorsville) has snuck in under the radar. And he's worthy of greater public scrutiny.
Waddoups doesn't like the idea that kids can watch adults pour drinks at Utah restaurants. He thinks it'll make them all grow up to be alcoholics. The problem is that he's the Senate President, others in the Republican caucus share his opinion, and they're leading the opposition to efforts by Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. to liberalize Utah's antiquated and feudalistic liquor laws in order to make Utah more tourist-friendly. Full story published by the Deseret News, a December 31st Salt Lake Tribune story, and KSL Channel 5 (359 comments). Salt Lake Crawler blogmeister Glen Warchol has also weighed in.
One of Huntsman's proposals is to eliminate private club memberships, and the majority Senate GOP caucus has already opposed this initiative. But now the Administrative Rules Committee is going much further; on Wednesday January 7th, they will consider whether the existing barriers intended to separate restaurant customers from alcoholic drink preparations are enough — even though Huntsman has questioned their necessity. Senator Waddoups had this to say: "Restaurants are turning into bars. It's making it look attractive. Kids see it and wonder what they're missing. I think we need to be a little more strict".
Currently, many restaurants have installed glass barriers between where drinks are mixed and the counters where customers are served. Customers cannot be served over the barriers; their food and drink orders have to be brought around the counters. But Waddoups doesn't consider this measure sufficient; he would prefer to see an opaque physical barrier erected in restaurants blocking the view of alcohol or better yet, move the preparation of drinks into a back room.
The issue of whether the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) needs to tighten its rules is also being raised before the committee by former Senate President John Valentine (R-Orem) and the committee chairman, Sen. Howard Stephenson (R-Draper). But perhaps these lawmakers need to ascertain whether the current laws are still effective; a December police sting in Vernal netted eight establishments which sold alcohol to minors.
But DABC demurs. "We've certainly tried to stay within the law and enforce the law," said Earl Dorius, the department's regulatory director. He said the existing barriers have been used for a long, long time. But Dorius declined to comment on the debate or on whether it was reasonable to expect restaurants, especially national chains designed with bar-like counters, to go along with moving mixing behind closed doors.
Governor Huntsman is optimistic that his liberalization efforts will bear fruit, although the ripening process will be quite slow. He pointed out he's already succeeded in making other changes in the state's liquor laws, including increasing the amount of alcohol in most mixed drinks.
Analysis: People were roasting Chris Buttars for his "black baby" remark, but are ignoring Waddoups? You've got to be kidding! With all due respect to Senator Waddoups, this is one of the most petty concerns ever expressed by a Utah lawmaker. Can these people truly believe that if a child watches a bartender pour a drink, the child will grow up to be an alcoholic?
Part of Senator Waddoups' problem is that he is too personally invested in the situation. His wife was struck and seriously injured by a drunk driver years ago, and he took it far too personally, thus damaging his objectivity as a lawmaker. I don't believe he's capable of judging this situation on the basis of its absolute merit.
Salt Lake Crawler blogmeister Glen Warchol proposes a compromise solution in which he tears a page out of Texas' book. He proposes "wet" and "dry" counties. He suggests the legislature simply grant power to the counties to determine this issue for themselves. This would be a good interim compromise.
Perhaps Mike Waddoups and his Senate GOP colleagues should redirect their concerns towards protecting the pocketbooks of Utah taxpayers. Currently, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is talking about suing the BCS because Utah was frozen out. Undoubtedly, public money would be involved; would this be a wise use of taxpayer dollars when Utah State University and other schools are contemplating layoffs because of budget cuts? Absolutely not. [Ed. Note: USU faces the possibility of laying off as many as 660 people if budget cuts are passed.]
It's time for lawmakers to re-direct their focus upon issues that actually matter to the Utah taxpayer.