Interim Day: Testimony before legislative committee regarding liquor policy

Photo credit: David Shankbone

Photo credit: David Shankbone

Testimony by Paul Mero before the Business and Labor Interim Committee on Wednesday, July 17, 2013.

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee,

State liquor policy has been consistent for decades. Utah is a control state. Our policy is to “reasonably satisfy the public demand” for alcoholic products and “protect the public interest.” The law even includes a provision about “the rights of citizens who do not wish to be involved with alcoholic products” (language justifying what has become known as the “Zion curtain”).

State policy is designed to “promote the reduction of the harmful effects” of liquor, to mitigate overconsumption and avoid the “consumption of alcoholic products by minors.” The policy even addresses all of the voices that wrongly equate the consumption of alcohol with economic development: The state “may not promote or encourage the sale or consumption of alcoholic products.” Arguing for liquor on the grounds that it increases economic development is promoting and encouraging its sale and consumption.

Every five years or so, this Legislature should revisit state liquor policy instead of allowing special interests to passive-aggressively chip away at it session by session. You either believe that there is a government role in protecting the public interest or you don’t.

Liquor policy is not complicated – only critics nitpicking at control policies have made it so over time.

If increasing liquor sales and consumption are threats to the public interest – and I argue that they are – not only can Utah code be reduced and simplified, it can be more aggressive in protecting the public interest. For instance, the Legislature should seriously consider lowering the blood alcohol content level to 0.05 rather than the current 0.08. There’s plenty of sound evidence that shows real reductions in harm when the BAC is reduced to 0.05.

When policy objectives are well defined, limited government is easier to obtain. Not one of us really wants to tell people what to do and yet all of us understand the necessity of order and personal responsibility required to maintain a free society. We know that when someone is impaired or drunk, they’re not really free. It’s specious to argue that an individual liberty to consume as much liquor as you want, whenever and wherever you want, is some God-given principle in a free society.

Instead of entertaining jokes about Utah’s “Zion curtain,” we’d be much better off searching for more ways to isolate the culture of drinking in this state – that is, if we’re serious about protecting the public interest. And despite feigned ignorance about culture and its affects, everyone knows what we mean. Specifically, a culture of drinking promotes liquor consumption just as a culture of dining promotes food consumption. The “Zion curtain” law simply reminds us that a culture of drinking is different than a culture of dining.

Does state government have a legitimate role in influencing a culture of drinking? I argue that it does because it has no choice in the matter. It’s not as if a culture of drinking is going to regulate itself. Bar culture isn’t going to consistently tell someone they’ve had too much to drink. Bar culture isn’t going to follow someone from the bar to the car to home. And we certainly don’t want to imply to children that bar culture represents responsible adult behavior.  We don’t have to moralize to tell the truth but, evidently, a culture of drinking needs constant reminding that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

There’s never a good time to encourage a culture of drinking if you believe that the Legislature has a role in protecting the public interest. Lower the BAC limit to 0.05. Complement the “Zion curtain,” don’t tear it down. And, choose to periodically and proactively debate state liquor policy rather than permit some colleagues to repeal it through a thousand exceptions and pretended needs.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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  • Adison

    Jesus promoted drinking… Just saying

    • Duane

      At the time, water was probably often dangerous to drink. In some areas of the world it still is.

      The wine Jesus drank and made probably had just enough alcohol in it to kill germs.

      He never promoted intoxication.

      • Adison

        He did it at the end of the wedding and was asked why are you bringing out the good wine at the end of the party being that the custom was to serve the good wine first when your guests can taste it better and lower quality wine later when under intoxication they guests were less likely to notice.

        John 2:9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
        10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

        He likely served it to people who were already drunk.

        He himself also said that people would think him a drunkard and winebibber.

        Luke 7:34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!

        • Duane

          The ruler of the feast was obviously not drunk enough to not notice. There is no viable reason to assume that he was the only one. So by the account, Jesus did NOT serve it to people who were already drunk.

          Luke 7:34 is in the middle of a discourse where Jesus is condemning the unbelief and hypocrisy of the people, particularly the Pharisees. He didn’t say “people would think him a drunkard and winebibber.”

          He said they would accuse him of being such. Accusations of jealous hypocrits are hardly reliable evidence.

          Your conclusions are not supported by the limited account.

          • Adison

            nether are yours

          • Duane

            What scripture did I change?

            The master of the feast was sober enough to notice the quality of the wine. There is no indication that he was the only sober one. YOU changed the scenario to say Jesus served it to drunks.

            The Bible is an incomplete record. You don’t know if He ever condemned drunkenness or not.

            Based on the limited record, the people at the wedding were likely not drunk. There are STILL places in the world where a weak wine (say 0.5%) would be safer to drink than the local water. And if I weren’t trying to convince the whole ward that drinking was OK, I bet my bishop would still give me a recommend if I admitted that I had done so on a trip to the Bolivian jungle. The church does not make as big a deal out of it as you are.

            Why is it such a big deal to you?

          • Adison

            This is such a big deal to me because I am tired. I have lost patience. I know the real reasons for the liquor laws in Utah are based in beliefs and people wanting to protect those beliefs. It is the same thing with being gay. They are worried that if they give any legitimacy to a life where that is accepted, more people will accept it. That is why they legislate against it. They are worried that their children will see drinks being made and then they will want them.They honestly think that gays recruit people to their ranks or that their children will struggle with being gay, if they make those things an option then they might choose it. I understand this, but it is not right to legislate it, to cut your children or anyone off from that option. They must make their own decisions. Many reasons have been given, many of them valid, about why there is a need for strict laws but the approach gives away the real reasons. But making it harder to drink may bring down the amount of drunk driving, but there are other ways to approach that. It might make it harder for youth to drink but that is only because they have made it harder for everyone. By the way the amount of alcohol needed to kill bacteria, at least in hand sanitizer, is around 60%. The fermentation process is possible because of bacteria or yeast. This is why they had wells, for clean water. Also Alcohol Dehydrates the body and I would not recommended replacing your water intake with an alcoholic beverage. That is why you get head aches when hungover, because your body is dehydrated.

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