SALT LAKE CITY — A state senator who plays an integral role in setting Utah liquor policy is questioning an attorney general's office interpretation of how social clubs may legally change alcohol prices under a new law.
In reaching a resolution last week to a lawsuit challenging the state prohibition of "happy hour" and other drink discounts, assistant attorney general Kyle Kaiser agreed with the Utah Hospitality Association that social clubs may change their prices on a daily basis. To comply, clubs must print daily menus containing those prices and have them available for customers.
But John Valentine said that practice does not meet the intent of the law. He said he understands the Utah Attorney General's Office is saying establishments can print a daily drink menu and claim it's not a discount because it's the price for that day.
"That seems like a subterfuge to me," he said.
Utah has a longstanding policy against the sale of discounted alcoholic beverages as a way to curb overconsumption. Valentine said he thought the Utah Legislature made that clear in 2011 when it passed his bill extending the ban to not just liquor but all forms of alcohol including beer and wine.
"I guess we need to put new language in there (that says) 'and we really mean it,'" he said Wednesday.
The Utah Hospitality Association contended the law was "unconstitutionally vague" because it didn't define what discount means and what prices constitute the promotion of overconsumption. But after clarifying in a letter to Kaiser that clubs may change their prices on a daily basis, it dropped the complaint.
"We confirmed that with them in an informal communication," Kaiser said.
At the behest of both parties, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins then dismissed the lawsuit last week with prejudice, meaning UHA can't refile it.
The UHA claimed partial victory, but Kaiser said the state didn't concede anything and called the dismissal a "great win for Utah."
"There was no agreement. There were no concessions that were made," he said, describing the UHA letter as "nonbinding."
Kaiser said the state's position from the start was that clubs aren't prohibited from changing prices daily as long as they comply with other provisions in the law against advertising discounted drinks, offering two-for-one specials or free drinks or setting prices to increase drinking.
For example, posting a sign reading "Mondays, Budweiser $2, Tuesdays, Budweiser $3" could be deemed by state alcohol regulators to encourage overconsumption on Mondays and lead to a citation.
Allen Whittle, acting UHA president and owner of Bogey's Social Club, said he has already started changing prices daily based on the agreement.
"Now it's clear to me where it wasn't before," he said.
But still seemingly unclear is the meaning of discount.
Valentine said he defines it as "different from the normal price it's sold." Whittle said he understands it to mean selling "below cost."
The senator said he asked legislative attorneys to look into the issue and give him their opinion of the law.
"It seems to be kind of murky right now," Valentine said.