Testimony on HB 285 (Alcoholic Beverage Service Amendments)

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Testimony presented by Stan Rasmussen, director of public affairs, Sutherland Institute, on March 4 before the House Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee regarding HB 285 3rd Substitute – Alcoholic Beverage Service Amendments:

Thank you Mr. Chair, and good afternoon, Representatives. Stan Rasmussen representing Sutherland Institute to present our perspective on this bill.

You have heard today, or will hear, that HB 285 is needed for the development of private businesses that sell alcohol, also known as “economic development.” Clearly this is of interest to those who profit from liquor sales, but it has nothing to do with the goals of alcohol policy in Utah, as spelled out in Utah Code section 32B-1-103.

This is one reason we encourage you to oppose HB 285. If businesses that profit off of alcohol desire that economic development be a primary goal of alcohol policy, then we recommend they pursue for legislation amending section 32B-1-103 to that end so we can have an honest and candid debate about alcohol policy in Utah, instead of promoting legislation that undermines Utah alcohol policy the explicit purpose of which is to limit the social harms created by alcohol sales and consumption.

One goal of Utah alcohol policy is to “not promote or encourage the sale or consumption” of alcohol. HB 285 will not serve this goal, and in fact will undermine it. This can be seen in comments of restaurateurs and bartenders in news articles describing the “allure” and “art” of mixing drinks, along with statements estimating how much their alcohol sales would increase without the partition.

Another of those goals is to “protect the public interest, including the rights of citizens” who do not wish to drink. HB 285 does not serve this goal, since there are no non-drinking Utahns clamoring for a right to enjoy observing the mixing and serving of others’ drinks in restaurants.

A third goal of Utah alcohol policy is to “reasonably satisfy the public demand” for alcohol. HB 285 does not serve this goal, since any properly licensed restaurant in Utah can serve any legal alcoholic beverage that their customers order, with or without this legislation.

A final goal of alcohol policy in Utah is to “promote the reduction of the harmful effects” of adult overconsumption and underage drinking. Again, HB 285 does not serve this goal, as there is no reason to believe removing partitions in restaurants will discourage problem drinking, and at least a plausible reason to believe that it will instead encourage it.

You have also heard, or will hear, that the partition requirement in restaurants is completely ineffective. Clearly that is not true, and the evidence is right in front of us. If the partition requirement had no effect, we would not be having a hearing today with so many businesses attesting to its effects. That effectiveness, of course, is as a barrier to the desire to incorporate a culture of drinking into the dining environment of a restaurant, with the intent of making more money by selling more alcohol. In Utah, we have reasonably decided with this policy that it is appropriate to protect vulnerable people – especially children and recovering alcoholics – from unnecessary exposure to a culture of drinking in the dining environment of a restaurant.

In summary, Sutherland asks you to reiterate and maintain the reasonable and prudent alcohol policies of the state by opposing HB 285.

Thank you.