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Alcohol board may allow public to voice concerns

Think Utah's liquor laws are quirky? You may get a chance soon to tell members of the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission exactly how you view the state's efforts to regulate drinking.

During Wednesday's commission meeting, new member Bobbie Bicknell Coray announced she wants to schedule a public hearing to air concerns she's heard over the years about the state's liquor laws.

"I'd like to look at the laws and why they're there and then to say, 'Are they accomplishing what our purpose is, or are they silly?"' said Coray, who retired last year as president and CEO of the Cache Chamber of Commerce.

The commission did not take action Wednesday on her request for what would likely be a unique opportunity for the public to complain, but Chairman Sam Granato said later that the idea would be discussed at the commission's next meeting, on Nov. 15.

"I'm sure there will be one," Granato said of a public hearing. "We want more public input."

One law that needs to be reviewed, Coray said, is the requirement that there be a glass barrier in a restaurant bar separating the patrons from the alcohol. Servers are not allowed to pass food and drinks — even non-alcoholic ones — over the so-called "Zion Curtain."

The intent of the law, Coray said, is to protect minors. But a better way than setting up the glass barrier might be to ban underage patrons from a restaurant's bar area as other states already do, she said.

Still, Coray wasn't sure what kind of response she could expect from such a hearing. She said she recently asked listeners during a radio interview to call in with their concerns — and heard nothing.

"I find it fascinating that when I actually pin people down ... they go, 'Well, uh, well, uh' and (their concern about liquor laws) disappears," Coray said. "So maybe we just have a perception problem."

Another new commissioner, Park City lawyer Gordon Strachan, said he agreed with Coray.

"I have the same view. I tried to start collecting a list of laws that are kind of silly," Strachan said, calling the typical complainer "a 25-year-old New Yorker who says he can't get a drink in Utah. ... It's a perception problem as much as a quirk problem."

Coray, Granato and Strachan are all new to the commission that regulates the sale and consumption of alcohol in the state. They were named in May to the five member commission by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who has called in the past for more relaxed liquor laws.

At Wednesday's meeting, the commission delayed until next month a decision on a new rule that would take flavored malt beverages known as "alcoholpops" out of supermarkets and allow them to be sold only in state liquor stores.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and other critics have pushed for the move, saying the sweet, beer-based beverages flavored with liquor extracts, like Mike's Hard Lemonade, are intended to appeal to underage drinkers.

Commissioners decided to wait until November to vote, though, because the final version of the rule wasn't finished until just before their meeting.

But a Lehi woman, Malisa Troutwine, appeared at the meeting to oppose pulling the products from supermarkets. To help make her point, Troutwine passed out homemade cookies with orange frosting made with almond extract — which has a high alcohol content.

"Getting to the liquor store is hard for me," the stay-at-home mom said, noting the flavored malt beverages would likely cost more there. "Moving them is just moving them. Kids are still going to get ahold of them."