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How liquor, film and transient room tax legislation will affect Wasatch Back

Utah Wasatch mountains with snow-capped peaks.
Adobe Stock
Utah Wasatch mountains with snow-capped peaks.

The Park City Chamber shared how the new bills passed this legislative session will affect Wasatch Back businesses and the area’s economy Thursday.

One bill affecting many businesses, hotels and restaurants in the area covers the state’s liquor laws. The new law increases the number of liquor licenses available over seven years. During the webinar Thursday, public and government affairs strategist Des Barker said the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services took action after it passed.

“DABS immediately gave out all of their available liquor licenses in the last DABS meeting knowing that by the time they met next that they would have availability for their immediate needs on bar and restaurant licensee applications,” he said.

Barker estimates the bill would eventually provide more than 300 new restaurant licenses and over 100 bar licenses in the next seven years.

The new law will also allow hotel patrons to transport an unmarked alcoholic beverage between a licensed bar area inside of a hotel through “convenience areas” like hallways. But there are still some questions about how this will work in practice.

“How do you keep having people move along to their next area without having to have constant staff there monitoring and creating risk for the licensee?” Barker said.

A bill supporting film production in Utah will provide $12 million to the Utah Film Commission annually for the next two years. Barker said rural parts of Utah and the Wasatch Back benefit because it could increase hotel stays and tourism.

Rural areas also benefited from a bill that reduced liability for farmers and ranchers using land for other revenue streams, like a corn maze or culinary experiences, was also reduced this legislative session with.

“There are certain inherent risks of being on a farm or a ranch that they can't manage for all of those types of things and that this was their attempt to try and limit their liability and to try and eliminate some of the frivolous lawsuits,” Barker said.

Another important piece of legislation changed the Tourism Marketing Performance Fund, which uses sales tax revenue to fund tourism-related industries. Lawmakers cut the fund by $1 million to $21.8 million.

Legislation surrounding the Transient Room Tax still needs clarity. TRT is a tax imposed by a county or city on lodging for stays less than 30 days. Barker said many counties want things other than hotel stays to be subject to TRT because they need more revenue to support areas affected by tourism, like public safety. Right now, one of the main ways counties accommodate revenue needs is by increasing property taxes.

“We have been at the table for many years trying to sort this out," Barker said. "And it continues to be a pressure cooker.”

Gov. Cox has until March 21 to pass or veto legislation from the 2024 session. He can also allow bills to become law without his signature.