Of the 150 angry tavern owners who attended a strategy session Sunday, more than 100 could be put out of business by proposed changes in Utah liquor laws, the group's spokesman said.
"We believe that the liquor task force doesn't fully understand the impact its recommendations will have on taverns," said Fred Diana, executive director of the Utah Licensed Beverage Association.He forecasts economic disaster for the industry and the loss of hundreds of jobs if the Legislature adopts the changes.
What has the tavern owners concerned are five proposals by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Review Task Force:
-A prohibition against "brown-bagging" in taverns.
-A requirement that all beer and liquor outlets obtain dram-shop insurance to cover damages caused by intoxicated patrons.
-The elimination of the cap on dram-shop liability.
-Tighter restrictions on beer-keg sales.
-State licensing of taverns, which are currently under local control.
"They want to increase our expenses and limit our income," complained Greg Arata, proprietor of Junior's Tavern. "A lot of places operate on a slim profit margin, and they won't make it."
Brian Harris, representing the Distilled Spirits Council, told the tavern owners that 75 percent of them would not survive the changes.
"I don't buy that," Ken Wynn, director of Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said of the dire predictions. In an interview last week, Wynn, a task force member, acknowledged that the modifications could force some out of business, although not nearly as many as Diana and Harris maintained.
However, Wynn said all tavern owners could be affected by the proposed legislation and encouraged them to express their opinions. Dialogue is what the task force and legislators are seeking, Wynn said.
They'll get it from the tavern owners, who vowed Sunday to call and write their legislators, attend public hearings on the issue, enlist the support of their patrons and sic lobbyist Randy Horiuchi on lawmakers.
Horiuchi, former state Democratic Party chairman, said the association faces an uphill fight.
"It's intimidating to open your daily newspaper and read the editorials and see all the forces that are in favor of this bill." Horiuchi said.
Harris said many in the hotel and motel, restaurant, private club and ski industries will oppose the legislation. Costs for everyone in the liquor consumption businesses will increase, and revenues will drop, he said.