The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and the Davis Chamber of Commerce take fundamentally different approaches to alcohol (liquor) availability and consumption in Utah.
The LDS church sees alcohol consumption as a moral issue while the Davis Chamber of Commerce considers it to be purely an economic development, tourism and quality of life issue.
During an early morning meeting of the Republican Conservative Caucus, LDS chief lobbyist, Bill Evans, reviewed the Mormon church’s position on alcohol over the years.
Evans explained that in 1968, the LDS church was heavily involved in defeating an initiative to liberalize Utah liquor laws. In that election, the LDS church engaged its entire membership in the fight and organized opposition against the initiative down to the quorum level.
According to Evans, the LDS church has continued to be involved in alcohol issues in Utah, although in a lower keyed manner, because alcohol is more than a simple health and safety issue — it is a moral issue. Evans acknowledged, however, that LDS church does not attempt to influence alcohol laws in other states.
In Utah, the LDS church has one lobbyist who specializes in alcohol issues.
The Davis Chamber has a formal Legislative Affairs Committee that is “comprised of business leaders throughout the community.” The Committee has 11 legislative priorities – Capital Facilities, Economic Development, Education, Energy, Healthcare, Immigration, Liquor Laws, Military Issues, Tourism, Water Development, and Utah Procurement Team.
Members of the Chamber’s subcommittee on liquor laws are: Chair, Kent Andersen, Layton City, Kym Buttschardt, Roosters Brewing Company, Joe Caldwell, Fast-Tek On-Site Computer Service, Mark Livingston, Outdoor UTAH Adventure Guide, Barbara Riddle, Davis Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and Steve Smith, Wisan Smith Racker & Prescott LLP.
The Davis Chamber’s position statement on Liquor laws reads:
We recognize that liquor legislation has an impact on economic development, tourism and overall quality of life in Utah.
The Davis Chamber of Commerce recognizes the importance of public safety as it relates to liquor legislation and believes there is a way to balance public safety with changes that support positive economic development. We further believe that the perception of Utah’s liquor laws has negatively impacted business development, recruitment and tourism. We support common sense liquor legislation that address these issues and encourage a healthy dialogue with representatives from impacted industries as legislation is drafted.
In keeping with the Chamber’s position statement, Davis Chamber President/CEO, Jim Smith told those present at an early morning meeting of the four northern Utah Chambers (Davis, Ogden/Weber, Box Elder, and Cache Valley) that the availability of alcohol in Utah had gone from being a tourism issue to an economic development issue.
In addition, the Davis Chamber’s Legislative Affairs Committee holds a closed meeting with Davis legislators each Monday morning of the session and uses that meeting, which is attended by dozens of business, government and community leaders, to aggressively push its alcohol agenda.
During the 2013 legislative session, the Chamber threw its support behind four liquor related bills and in the end it managed to get almost all that it asked for with the exception of eliminating the “Zion’s Curtain” when the legislature passed HB228S04 and HB240.
Since 1968, the LDS church has continued to give ground on the alcohol issues in Utah while the predominantly LDS business community has continuously moved the goal posts in order to incrementally liberalize Utah’s liquor laws.
If the past is any indicator of the future, within the next decade or so, LDS business and government leaders will achieve their goal of eliminating Utah’s unique liquor laws in the name of economic development. Once that occurs, Utah will be similar to all of the other states where the LDS church takes a hands-off approach to alcohol legislation and the LDS church will no longer be involved in liquor issues in Utah.