Utah bars fined for failing to scan customer IDs of those who appear younger than 35

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Utah bars fined for failing to scan customer IDs

SALT LAKE CITY — Four bars in Salt Lake City and a club in Ogden have been cited by state liquor agents for failing to scan the ID of anyone who appears younger than 35 before allowing them to enter.

The penalty for failing to electronically verify licenses is equal to serving alcohol to a minor.

The little-known penalty is part of landmark legislation that eliminated Utah’s private club system in July in an effort to boost tourism.

In exchange for dropping membership requirements, lawmakers required bar owners to install electronic devices and to retain the data for seven days to aid in police investigations of alcohol-related crimes.

The law requires only bars to use scanning devices. Grocery stores, restaurants and state-controlled liquor outlets are exempt.

Peggy Bowen, owner of Chuckles Lounge in Salt Lake City, said her bartender asked three young adults, all older than 21, to show their driver licenses, but because the club did not use its electronic device, “we were told we broke the law.”

She said the club usually uses an electronic scanning device, but on Feb. 18, the bartender only checked the licenses visually.

“I don’t like it; I think it’s unfair, but I don’t have the money to fight this,” said Bowen. “Now everyone who looks under 60 gets their licenses scanned.”

Bowen paid $1,158 in fines and court costs.

The offense will stay on her record, serving to increase the severity of penalties if any other violations occur, including the possibility of losing her liquor license.

She has had no other violations during the nearly 10 years her club has been in business, according to state records.

Lawyers with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control determined that under administrative rules, the scanner violation for bars is “serious,” giving the offense the same gravity as allowing a minor onto the premises or serving alcohol to underage drinkers.

Assistant Attorney General Shelia Page said the penalty was deemed “serious” because it involves issues relating to public health and underage drinkers.

“The legislative intent is clear,” she said. “The Legislature made a determination that the (scanning) requirement is a gatekeeper to keep minors out of clubs.”

Lisa Marcy, attorney for the bar industry’s Utah Hospitality Association, said failing to use a scanner on anyone who appears to be under 35 is arbitrary and wouldn’t be enforceable if challenged.

“In any other area, other than alcohol, the public would be outraged. It’s like a police officer testifying that a driver ‘appeared’ to be speeding. And instead of issuing a traffic citation, the driver was charged with a class B misdemeanor,” she said.

Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, www.sltrib.com

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