Leave Us Alone | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Opinion

Leave Us Alone


By most measures of small-business success in Utah, Tony Chlepas would be in the Hall of Fame. His mother, the late Helen Chlepas, was widowed with her four children still in grade school. In the early ’70s, Helen secured a small loan to buy a ramshackle little tavern near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Tony and his siblings grew up helping their mom, including in the bar’s tiny kitchen. That’s where Helen perfected the bar’s specialty sandwich. And now the Cotton Bottom Inn and its garlic burger are world famous.

Tony owns the bar outright since his mother passed away a few years ago. He’s doing well, and he’s earned his success. As any bar owner will tell you, theirs is more than a full-time job this time of the year, when the Utah Legislature starts its annual fiddling with state liquor

laws. Whether it’s splitting hairs over the size of a legal shot of alcohol, club membership, smoking regulations or dram shop laws, business owners like Tony Chlepas are on hyper-alert from January to March. It’s a waiting game to see how much their right to make a living will suffer under the moral watchdogs on the Hill. Their livelihoods are on the line every year. Last week, Tony (whom my brother and I grew up with in Holladay) was talking about the proposed changes to liquor laws already bouncing around, only three weeks into the session.

Orem Sen. John Valentine has been crafting the worst bill of all—the creation of a central database to store information on bar patrons, gleaned by scanning their driver’s licenses as they enter a drinking establishment. Law enforcement officers would have access to the information for investigations into DUI stops or other traffic violations. No one can really say what other information would be open to the government’s Peeping Toms. Valentine’s fellow Republican, Senate President Michael Waddoups, wants restaurants that serve liquor to have scanning technology, as well. That way, the pimply-faced front-desk host at your favorite franchise eatery could feed your personal data to the state, too. Legislators would never try this power play on the insurance industry, farmers, real-estate agents, bankers or other scions of Utah business. The Valentine- Waddoups model cuts to the quick Americans’ right to be left alone and the right of a legal business to operate free of unreasonable state intrusion.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. liked the notion a few weeks ago. But the original intention was to scan for the sole purpose of rooting out underage drinkers. Now the thing has morphed into a perverted morality measure, fueled by the do-gooder mentality that underscores too many Utah laws. Now Huntsman—thinking like a global politician who sees a world beyond Taylorsville—is getting uneasy with the whole idea. The Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all rights not articulated by the Bill of Rights.

It’s the handy little amendment Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun cited when writing for the majority in Roe v. Wade. Nowhere in the Constitution are we specifically guaranteed a right to privacy. But Blackmun argued it’s there nevertheless—for women who want an abortion free of state interference in the first three months of pregnancy. People over the age of 21 have a legal right to drink in bars. Would a law storing their personal information in a database mess with their right to move about where they want and to associate with whom they want and, in short, tamper with their right to privacy? It sounds like a court test ripe for the picking.

Tony Chlepas, sounding like the successful businessman he is, raises another specter. Say the cops track a DUI suspect’s activity to his bar the previous evening. No matter how sophisticated the database, there is no accounting for the beer the guy may have drunk in his car on the drive home. There isn’t a way to track his stop at a friend’s house after the bars closed down, either.

“I know that stuff happens all the time,” Tony says. And he asks, pretty reasonably: “How do they hold a bar owner liable in those cases?” No matter how far to the left or right you sit on the political spectrum, it’s scary stuff.

Americans—even here in the sovereign nation of Utah—still have a right to live their lives a little sub rosa. CW Send comments to hmullen@cityweekly.net

(Not) According to Jim: It’s been 179 weeks since Rep. Jim Matheson spoke to City Weekly.

Legislators would never try this power play on the insurance industry, farmers, real-estate agents, bankers or other scions of utah business.