Utah House Committee Votes to Redefine Intoxicated

March 6, 2009

Utah bars and restaurants could soon get in trouble for serving someone who isn’t legally intoxicated, but shows signs of being drunk.

A Utah House committee unanimously approved a bill that’s intended to make it easier for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to find bars and restaurants guilty of serving someone who is drunk by creating a new definition of what it means to be intoxicated in a restaurant or bar and reducing the standard of evidence that’s necessary.

Under House Bill 376, sponsored by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, someone in a bar or restaurant would be considered intoxicated if the individual’s mental or physical functions were significantly impaired as a result of alcohol and the person showed outward signs of appearing drunk.

To punish a bar or restaurant, state agents would only need to prove there’s a greater likelihood than not that someone was intoxicated under the bill’s definition.

The Utah attorney general’s office is requesting a new definition of what it means to be intoxicated in a restaurant or bar because the Utah Supreme Court ruled in October that simply being drunk is not a crime and that state agents were wrongfully fining bars and restaurants as a result.

The ruling said that someone is only legally intoxicated if he poses a clear and probable danger to himself or someone else. The court said that being drunk in and of itself is not a threat to anyone.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts told lawmakers the ruling “created problems.”

Originally, Hughes’ bill would have made it illegal to serve someone who appears drunk. After complaints from the Utah Hospitality Association, which represents the bar industry, Hughes changed his bill.

Bar owners say they’re still worried the bill is too vague and would give state agents too much discretion in determining who is intoxicated.

The bill will now be debated on the House floor.

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