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Utah to eliminate private club system

SALT LAKE CITY – Getting into a bar in Utah is about to become a lot easier.

Gov. Jon Huntsman and state House and Senate leaders agreed Monday to eliminate the state’s much-criticized private club system, which requires someone to fill out an application and pay a fee for the right to enter a bar unless he or she is the guest of a member.

Utah, with a government historically dominated by Mormon church members, is the only state in the country with such a law.

Under the agreement approved unanimously late Monday by the state Senate, bars could open their doors to the public July 1. A nearly identical version was approved 66-8 in the state House.

“This is a big moment, I think, for our state. This is a crossroads,” said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper. “I think we shed some of the misconceptions about our liquor laws while actually strengthening them and modernizing them.”

Huntsman has been pushing to eliminate the 40-year-old system in an effort to boost the state’s $6 billion-a-year tourism industry and make Utah seem a little less odd to outsiders.

Typically, a visitor to a bar currently can expect to pay at least $4 for a membership lasting three weeks or at least $12 for an annual membership. A separate membership is required for each bar and patrons can fill out an application at the door.

In exchange for getting rid of memberships, the state’s DUI laws will become more strict and people who appear younger than 35 will have their driver’s licenses scanned before entering a bar to make sure they’re 21 or older and their ID is real.

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