Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And Now For Some Utah Politics On Liquor

A local beer. One of my favorites!
Utah's Hospitality Association, a group that represents hotels, bars, and clubs, is suing the state of Utah over it's liquor laws. This would repeal some of the newest legislation foisted upon us drinkers in the state that makes it illegal to advertise drink specials. This same bill, bill SB314, also limited the number of liquor licenses available in the state, creating a two year waiting list to be considered. On top of that it also made the City Weekly's (a local paper here) Beer Festival illegal, citing "overconsumption" as an issue, despite the fact that no arrests were made or citations given to any participant of the festival.  This legislation came into effect shortly after Utah got rid of it's private club laws, which made it so that you had to pay a membership fee to enter a "private club" (bar). When that legislation went away, I was pretty happy, only to have it replaced with this. 

The Hospitality Association claims that the laws violate the Sherman Act on trade and is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of church and state because, wait, there is more to the story! Turns out the Mormon Church is another reason the state is getting sued! The LDS church had a hand in crafting SB314, allegedly sending two representatives who,

"...warned lawmakers that if they did not agree with that Church's support of SB 314 [a big alcohol bill] there would be repercussions."

And the fact that the author of the bill received,

"...approval...from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Senator Valentine (he's in charge of the liquor law committee) has said numerous times that the church has a stake in the liquor laws, so of course he listens to their opinion. He has even admitted in a radio interview on a local station, X96, that the laws have a religious basis because a majority of our population is LDS. He also says the LDS church has the freedom of speech, so we should just butt out. Valentine completely misses the point that the separation of church and state trump the first amendment. By having the church help craft laws, you are violating the Constitution. They can have their opinion all day long, but they can't force that on the public via legislation, whether a majority of the population belongs to that faith or not.

Sadly, this isn't new in Utah. Every so often there is a big scandal here that the church may be influencing the legislation. They get caught, get a slap on the wrist, and proceed to be sneakier than ever about it. It's depressing, really.

I hope the Hospitality Association's lawsuit goes well. It will be a victory for church and state separation, and a victory for those of us who choose to drink in this state. If this lawsuit fails, I see prohibition right around the corner.

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