Utah bill seeks to take down 'Zion Curtain' in restaurants

(Reuters) - A Utah lawmaker filed a bill on Tuesday aimed at lifting the "Zion Curtain," a 7-foot barrier that many restaurants in the conservative state have been required to erect so children cannot see alcoholic drinks being prepared.

Utah is well-known for its strict and complex liquor laws. Under the legislation being proposed by Republican state Representative Kraig Powell, most restaurants that serve alcohol would need to have a separate bar or lounge area from which children are prohibited.

Powell sought to remove the barriers in 2013 and 2014. But his proposals have failed to win enough support in the face of resistance from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which said last year it was happy with the state's liquor laws.

Under current regulations designed to protect children, restaurants that opened after May 2009 may only dispense alcohol in an area separated from the food consumption area "by a solid, translucent, permanent" barrier so that the process is not visible to patrons.

Powell's new bill says that in addition to having a child-free area, restaurants must post signs at all entrances "stating in large letters that: 'Notice: This establishment prepares and dispenses alcoholic products in public view.'"

Exempted from the proposed amendment would be establishments with less than 1,000 square feet of space.

A poll published by UtahPolicy.com late last year suggested that almost two in three Utah residents wanted to get rid of "Zion curtains" from newly licensed restaurants that sell liquor.

"Like everything else we try in Utah liquor laws, it may sound a little strange to one side or the other," Powell told the Salt Lake Tribune in comments published on Tuesday.

"Because the lines have been drawn so starkly in the past, it's really important to have some new, out-of-the-box thinking to try to have a breakthrough."

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)