Utah Abolishing Private Membership Fees

A plan to abolish Utah’s peculiar private club law and its maddening membership fees is taking shape.
(As posted on The Salt Lake Tribune online)

Details are a little confusing, not unlike the state’s labyrinth of quirky liquor laws. But it appears that state hospitality and tourism industry officials, who have been clamoring for the reform of alcohol regulations that turn off and turn away tourists, are successfully picking their way through the minefield. And, if their luck holds, adults age 21 or older may soon be able to walk into a bar and purchase a legal alcoholic beverage without having to fill out forms, join the club and pay for the privilege.

Gov. Jon Huntsman, the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and a majority of Utahns who testified at DABC hearings in 2008 back the effort to abolish the private club system and make Utah law more consistent with those in the rest of the nation. And now it appears that the LDS Church, believed to be the moral compass of the Utah Legislature, won’t stand in the way.

At a luncheon meeting between church officials and legislative leaders this week, liquor laws were a topic. And while the subject of private clubs was not broached, the church was aware that the issue is on the table and raised no objection to the reasonable reform.

Church officials also voiced support for a Utah Hospitality Association proposal that is viewed as a compromise to quash concerns of lawmakers and the church about underage drinking in bars if private clubs are abolished.

The association favors installing electronic driver license scanning systems in all drinking establishments, similar to those being used in some state liquor stores. The devices, which cost about $800, detect fake IDs in a flash and determine the age of the holder by reading bar codes.

Electronic ID devices should be required. They would make life easier for bar owners, and keep kids from trying to enter clubs. But it’s not yet known if that will be enough to appease state lawmakers, who have also expressed dubious concerns that abolishing private clubs could lead to more incidents of overconsumption and drunken driving.

The time has come to address this issue and set unfounded fears aside. Our unusual liquor laws make us a laughingstock. The taxes paid by tourists, and the economic spinoff that their spending creates, help keep your taxes low. And tourism, one of the state’s leading industries, increasingly drives our economy.
Normalizing Utah liquor laws can only make a good thing better.