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New Utah laws: Higher liquor prices, highway bonds

New Utah laws: Higher liquor prices, highway bonds (Photo: MGN)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Higher liquor prices and other changes under a broad new Utah liquor law will take effect Saturday, along with a highway funding bill and a test program allowing people convicted of drunken driving to avoid having their driver's license suspended.

Most of the several dozen measures becoming law on Saturday deal with budgets, taxes or other financial matters and dovetail with the start of the government's new budget year on July 1.

They are a small fraction of more than 500 bills passed this year, most of which took effect May 9. That's a default date marking 60 days after the end of Utah's legislative session.

Highlights of changes to Utah law coming Saturday:

LIQUOR LAW

Utah wine, liquor and higher-alcohol beer become slightly more expensive. That's part of a new law that also allows some restaurants to take down walls and partitions that prevent customers from seeing their alcoholic drinks being mixed and poured. Utah has generally required restaurants built after 2009 to use a barrier, typically a glass wall or back room, under the premise that it hides the "glamour" of bartending from children and prevents underage drinking.

The new law allows restaurants to take down those barriers or stop using a back room if they create a child-free buffer zone around bars. The law also raises the state markup on alcohol two percentage points — to 88 percent for liquor and wine and 66.5 percent for beer with more than four percent of alcohol by volume that's only sold in state-run stores. Other changes under the law took effect in May or will be phased over several years.

UTAH LIQUOR STORE BUDGETS

Complaints about staff turnover, low employee pay and other problems at Utah's 44 state-run liquor and wine stores prompted a law allowing the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to keep a bit more of the $400 million in annual sales it generates. The measure, sponsored by West Valley City Democratic Sen. Karen Mayne, gives the department $1 million extra annually to increase worker pay or buy needed equipment.

DUI ANKLE MONITORS

Utah drivers arrested for drunken driving usually face a minimum 120-day suspension of their driver's license. A new law will test a different option in Weber County. It would allow a judge to shorten a license suspension or waive it altogether if the driver wears an ankle monitor or gets tested twice a day for alcohol in their system. The "24-7 sobriety program" is designed to help those convicted of DUI to rehabilitate their lives without losing their ability to drive or risk losing their job. Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, sponsored the measure and says if it's successful in Weber County, lawmakers could expand it throughout the state.

ROAD BONDS

One new law allows Utah to borrow up to $1 billion through bonds to pay for highway projects. The measure allows the state to borrow the money over four years. Lawmakers said the money will go toward improvements and road projects already approved by Utah's Department of Transportation. Officials said bond rates are currently low and if Utah uses the bond money for highways, it will free up other state funds to pay for education programs.

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