Monday, July 13, 2009

Cheers to Utah. Prohibition Ends.

Take One Down and Pass It Around As the nation's leading legal blawg for members of the David Cassidy fan club east of Saint Louis, we at the Nutmeg Lawyer often report on legal news outside of the Nutmeg State (i.e. Connecticut). This week, we focus on Utah. 1969 was the year that saw the summer of love and Woodstock. Man landed on the moon. For Bryan Adams, reportedly those were the best days of his life. Of course, Adams was Canadian and he didn't live in Utah. 69 was also the year that Utah passed legislation effectively making the state dry. The birthplace of Butch Cassidy would no longer take kindly to outlaw behavior. The measure was an arrangement legislated by Mormon state lawmakers and backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. (The Latter Day Saints instruct their members to lay off the sauce.) For decades, the people of Utah.....were required to be members of private drinking clubs in order to drink alcohol in bars. So let's say you're on vacation in Utah and you stop into a local watering hole. You would have to buy a membership before buying a drink. Buying a three-week membership to a club for around $4 enables the "member" to bring in up to seven guests per visit. $12-to-$16 annual membership allows the purchaser to bring in unlimited guests. One of the quirkier aspects of the law was the requirement of a 2 foot glass partition between the bartender and the patron. Bartenders would have to walk around the partitions to serve your drink. They were dubbed "zion curtains." Kind of a sneeze guard for your soul. Starting July 1, Utah joined the rest of the 49 states. You can now order a beer in a public bar without the fear of Elliot Ness bringing you down. The 213 page bill was the result of lengthy negotiations between Governor Jon Huntsman's office, the state legislature, restaurant and bar owners and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Its effects will undoubtedly be seen in state tourism and convention hosting dollars. Skiing draws in a big crowd to Utah. Wait until they add Vodka to the mix. According to the law, existing restaurants will be able to scrap the "Zion Curtain". New restaurants, on the other hand, will have to comply with approved floor plans that remove the mixing of drinks from the view of those under age 21. Bars will be required to scan the driver license of any patron who appears to be under 35 years old. More importantly, state liquor stores will be open on election days. Look for more elections of people named Seymour Butts and other colorful characters. You will also probably see a spike in 2 AM phone calls to ex girlfriends and use of the phrase "I love you man."

The changes in the law will surely also have an effect on the way Utah lawyers do business. Starting July 1, 2010, the liability for bars who serve drinks to intoxicated patrons involved in accidents will increase to approximately $2 million. That figure is reportedly the highest in the nation. Salt Lake City has a law that forbids having more than 2 bars in a square block. Will see if this changes with the addition of these new drinking laws. Second-time DUI offenders will lose their licenses and cars. An underage drinker with a fake ID will lose their right to a driver's license for a year. More than one offense? You will lose the license until you are 21.

Although the new laws do away with the membership requirement for bars, taverns will continue to be limited to serving only 3.2 percent alcohol beer.

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