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LIQUOR ISSUE AGAIN HEATS UP THE LEGISLATURE

SHARE LIQUOR ISSUE AGAIN HEATS UP THE LEGISLATURE

Liquor.

That one word in the Utah Legislature gets lawmakers up on their feet, ready to talk, moralize and theorize.Friday, House members argued, and then passed, a new law that re-regulates liquor company representatives in Utah and, along the way, allows for up to four "trade shows" per year for the liquor industry.

Those trade shows - which are not currently held in the state - are what upset some representatives.

In trade shows, people who buy and use liquor in their businesses - mainly restaurant owners - sample booze, especially wine, with an eye toward deciding what kind of spirits they'll stock. In Utah, of course, the state government strictly controls the sale of liquor, and all liquor would still be purchased through a state liquor agency. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dave Jones, D-Salt Lake City, says trade shows are needed especially in Utah because current liquor laws don't allow liquor representatives to give restaurant owners wine and other liquor to taste. While other industry reps often pass out free samples of their wares, hoping to get new customers, that can't be done with liquor here.

So, after much study and the endorsement of the Liquor Commission and a citizens panel on liquor control, Jones and state liquor officials came up with a compromise: the four trade shows a year, where law enforcement officers will be on hand to watch for problems and where liquor license holders (like restaurant owners) can come and taste liquor and wines to see what they may want to buy - through the state - for their es-tab-lish-ments.

But trade shows where liquor would be given away free didn't sit will with some lawmakers.

Rep. Russell Cannon, R-Sandy, tried to amend Jones' bill so only two people from each retail outlet could attend a show. He said it was a public safety issue.

As a prosecutor, Cannon said he knows that two shots of 80 proof booze for a 100 pound person could, after an hour, push the person's blood alcohol above the legal DUI level. "I don't want to meet one of your trade show (attendees) on the highway," said Cannon. Limiting each liquor license holder to two attendees would mean less of a chance of a drunk driver, he reasoned.

No, said Jones, it's possible there could be 1,000 different wines at a trade show. If a restaurateur had only two employees to taste all that wine, they could get real drunk, Jones said. But, he quickly adds, in tasting wine, one is not supposed to swallow - just swish it around in the mouth and spit it in a bucket.

"And some (large) restaurants or hotels may have 600 people who serve patrons. They are asked to recommend wines. (Trade shows) are a good way to teach employees about the different kinds of wines available," adds Jones.

Six hundred people getting "uncontrolled consumption" of alcohol? Not a good answer for Can-non. He envisions a case where "a daughter of mine" working as a waitress would be forced to attend such a show by her employer under the argument that even though she doesn't drink she must "sample" wines so as to better advise restaurant patrons.

Rep. Brad Johnson, R-Aurora, worried about the requirement that law officers be present at the shows. Does this mean officers get in free? Can they sample booze for free? Would off-duty officers flock to such shows for free booze? "Will they (police) be going to the trough (to drink alcohol)?" Johnson asked.

No, replied Jones, the officers would be working, and police rules prohibit drinking on the job.

Just before lawmakers voted 59-13 to approve the bill, Cannon said, "The future of Utah (various elementary school classes visiting the Capitol) is in the gallery. They are hearing how (some lawmakers) are promoting the drinking of alcohol in Utah. I hope they are listening and remember what they hear."