Utah legislators, drunk on power, are coming after bars—again | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Private Eye

Utah legislators, drunk on power, are coming after bars—again

Private Eye

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Groundhog Day always comes early in Utah. The official celebration of the shadow-chasing woodchuck takes place on Thursday, Feb. 2, but in Utah, it annually begins when the Utah Legislature kicks off its session.

There can be no shadow where the sun doesn't shine, so our legislators lack the guidance of Punxsutawney Phil, the notorious forecasting rodent made all the more famous by Bill Murray in the movie by the originally apt name of Groundhog Day. So the session repeats itself annually.

That's how it is in Utah. Every year for as long as I can remember (I'm old but young at heart, so I date myself in millennial time, making me just 2.37 millennials old), it's the same thing: A moralistic, God-fearing (not to be confused with God-loving, which they are not) band of election cheating, gerrymandered-into-office legislators, primarily of the Republican stripe, unfold all kinds of mayhem on Utah citizens while claiming to be doing good and worthy deeds in "his" name (his name is, of course, Bill, as in Dollar Bill).

When the powers in Utah don't want something, they try to kill it. To them, all snakes are rattlesnakes, all spiders are poisonous, all non-practicing Latter-day-Saint Utahns and especially all out-of-state Utahns who dare live outside the bounds of Utah fantasy land are to be hectored and driven away. Just ask Robert Redford, with whom the Legislature took umbrage, targetting his Sundance ski resort enterprise in order to hurt him financially. Yep, the Utah Legislature is decades ahead of the vengeful John Dutton, the fictional governor of Montana in the hit series Yellowstone.

It may be true that Utah has some smart and forward-thinking Republican legislators, but one thing they never seem to coalesce around in any positive way is liquor legislation. This year promises to be as hard on the liquor industry as ever, threatening once again an entire business community with onerous bills that do no good whatsoever when it comes to combating the overconsumption of alcohol.

HB247 is the package of liquor poison this year, sponsored in the house by West Jordan Republican Rep. Ken Ivory. But let's be honest; Ivory—as perpetually misguided and ill-informed as he is—is just doing the bidding of one Mr. Art Brown, who is the head of the Utah chapter of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). I'll buy Art a banana split for every new member of MADD that has joined his ranks in the last decade, because if I'm counting right, I'd only owe him one banana split.

Still, no mother is for drunk driving. When Mr. MADD convinces a woodchuck like Ivory to raise the insurance policy caps on any enterprise that serves liquor on-site, it soon becomes legislation. Brown erroneously believes that paying more money to the victims of drunk driving accidents leads to less consumption. It is the national charter goal of MADD to end drunk driving—fine, and we agree there—and Utah is already seeing decreased incidence of DUI due to education, ride sharing and other tactics.

So, why penalize the hospitality industry? Because Brown and Ivory see it as a spider. HB247 will more than double the insurance rates of clubs, restaurants, brewpubs and all the rest without decreasing consumption by one drop. One downtown club will see its insurance jump from around $50,000 annually to over $120,000 annually—and that operation has never had a DRAM shop incident. They must carry up to $3 million of insurance coverage.

Reputable insurance companies will no longer back the hospitality purveyors at those payout rates, leaving that industry at the mercy of high-cost insurance providers. How does Utah square that with being a business-friendly state? Easy—by forcing out the little independents in favor of national chains who will willingly fill the gaps.

Can you imagine Ivory sitting still if the Utah Legislature decided that he should pay double insurance costs in any category of his law practice or any other endeavors? He wouldn't.

HB247 will also require so-called "spy cams" to be installed in places serving booze. Being forced to spy on your own customers is quite Orwellian—yet another piece of bullshit in the eye of a state that only pays lip service to privacy. It's like they all went 360 degrees of dumb and want a COVID mask on the entire hospitality industry.

The authors of this bill are not concerned with drinking or consumption, but of whom is drinking and consuming. If every Saint quit drinking tomorrow, Utah would go broke.

But there's one tool that would prevent repeat drunk drivers from doing so over and over. The state is already spying on drinkers by scanning their ID. Why not place within that barcode a message that the holder of that ID has two or more DUI convictions? A bar could be alerted to a problem drinker in their midst. That person could not be served a drink. My weight is already on my ID so, so much for privacy.

Despite all the thoughts and prayers to the contrary, it's a rare bartender or waitress who can tell if a person is actually a drinking and driving hazard. For a state that cares so much about overconsumption, why does it put the burden on people who are just trying to get through college?

Make the state pay 100% of the insurance claims derived from a drunk-driving collision. Utah distributes and sells all the liquor here, so pay up and quit passing the buck.

It's time the Browns and Ivorys of the world go after the big dogs or at least for them to cop to intellectual and moral dishonesty on this matter. Until then, they're just helping to crater one of the primary engine drivers in the Utah economy, the Utah hospitality industry.

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net