The ‘Zion Curtain’ bill is finally unveiled. Here’s what’s in it

SALT LAKE CITY -- A 144 page bill that seeks to tear down the so-called "Zion Curtains" and overhaul other parts of Utah liquor laws has finally been unveiled.

House Bill 442, sponsored by House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, would require restaurants to choose between having "separate preparation areas" nicknamed Zion Curtains, or establishing a 10-foot perimeter where children cannot be seated. The bar area must have a physical barrier from the restaurant or waiting area, something that has been jokingly referred to as a "Zion Moat" or a "Zion DMZ."

Beginning in 2018, restaurants must also choose between having a Zion Curtain or a perimeter. They cannot be "grandfathered in."

A Zion Curtain inside a Utah restaurant. (FOX 13 file image)

A Zion Curtain inside a Utah restaurant. (FOX 13 file image)

"We’re saying you can leave it in place. If you want to take it down, you’ve got to create this buffer zone," Rep. Wilson told reporters on Monday.

Other highlights of the bill include:

  • A restructuring of the licenses for restaurants and bars, further separating the two.
  • Shrinking the distance restaurants that serve liquor must be from community locations like churches and schools.
  • Mandatory ID checks for anyone who sits in a "dispensary area" where alcohol is poured.
  • No more than two drinks before a patron at a time.
  • Beer labels must comply to a state standard, including making sure there is no confusion between a malted beverage and a soda pop.
  • Creates a pair of anti-underage drinking programs in eighth and 10th grades.
  • More training for waiters, bartenders and restaurants.
  • The Utah Department of Public Safety will do more to track sales to underage people.
  • "Booze carts" are forbidden.
  • Beer in grocery and convenience stores will be limited in where it can be displayed (to one or two areas).

One of the biggest components of the bill is a hike in liquor prices. As FOX 13 first reported when the bill was first discussed, Rep. Wilson said prices would be going up.

Right now, liquor is sold in state-run stores at cost plus an 86% markup. That will expand to 88%. Heavy beer will have a 66.5% markup. Some of the money will pay for the school programs to combat underage drinking.

"I really believe that if we get this passed, it creates much better alcohol policy for the state of Utah," Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, a co-sponsor of the bill, told reporters on Monday.

Rep. Wilson said he had been meeting with numerous stakeholders, including restaurant groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"In its current form, this bill appears to be an admirable attempt to address those concerns and provide appropriate protections. We will watch the legislative discussion with interest in the coming days," LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in an email to FOX 13.

Michele Corigliano, the executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, said her group was glad lawmakers were addressing the Zion Curtain and its burden on restaurant, but was concerned about the perimeter around the bar area.

"If it stands the way it is right now, we’d rather not have the Zion Curtain come down," she told FOX 13. "There are certain things we don’t like that much."

Corigliano said her group was also worried about licensing, forcing restaurants to choose between being a bar or being a restaurant. Each one comes with its own terms (bars can't allow anyone under 21, restaurants must do at least 70% of their sales in food and people must state an "intent to dine" before getting a drink).

"What are we going to do? Not allow people under 21 to go into a place like Squatters? For tourists, it’s a big deal," she said.

HB442's sponsors describe it as a work in progress. Sen. Stevenson said that if the legislation passed, they may have to come back and make fixes in subsequent years. Rep. Wilson said that if the bill didn't pass, he was OK with that.

"If this isn’t the right policy, we’ll abandon it today and move on to other issues that are just as important, if not more important," he said.