Senate committee approves bill that would allow stronger beer despite LDS church opposition

Stock image | Photo by Woodkern/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this week came out against a bill that would replace Utah’s current 3.2 alcohol beer limit with a higher content.

Sponsored by Layton Republican Sen. Jerry Stevenson, 2019’s Senate Bill 132 would increase the alcohol level in beer from 3.2 percent by weight to 4.8 percent. Major brewers are phasing out 3.2 beer due to lower demand caused by other states passing laws allowing higher alcohol content.

Read more: Utah’s 3.2 beer market could chill as other states enact more lenient laws

That has started to squeeze the supply of 3.2 beer Utah law allows in grocery and convenience stores.

This not only lessens a consumer’s choice as far as beer selection goes, it can also have negative impacts on more rural businesses that supply jobs that could be put at risk should customers go elsewhere to get their beer, Stevenson said.

David Hancock, vice president and general counsel for Maverik Inc., echoed Stevenson’s words to the Senate panel.

“The change in the availability of the 3.2 alcohol beer has had a significant impact on Maverik’s ability to stock different options for consumers and costumers.”

Higher alcohol content beers and beverages in Utah are sold through state-run liquor store. As is stands, Utah is one of few states remaining that maintains a 3.2 beer law.

The Border Store on North State Street began selling beer in May after liquor licensing was approved, Hildale, Utah, July 25, 2018 | File photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Various groups spoke for and against Stevenson’s proposed bill. Those in favor said it preserved consumer choice by allowing more beer options to become available. Those opposed shared concerns that higher alcohol content beers becoming more readily available will lead the increased levels of alcohol abuse in the state, particularly among minors.

The bill unanimously passed out the Senate committee Feb. 7 and is anticipated to be heard on the Senate floor next week.

Last Monday the LDS church joined the opposition and released the following statement through Marty Stephens, the church’s director of government relations and a former Utah House speaker.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, location and date of photo unspeficied. | Photo courtesy of the Utah Senate, St. George News

“The Church opposes Senate Bill 132 in its current form. We, along with other community groups, oppose legislation which represents a fifty percent increase in alcohol content for beer sold in grocery and convenience stores.”

Stevenson has told various media outlets he’s not surprised the LDS church came out against the bill.

“I don’t believe there’s any way they can support that bill,” Stevenson told Fox 13 News. “And, in fact, I doubt there’s a way they can stay neutral.”

Still, the LDS church is known to influence in Utah politics – over 60 percent of Utah’s population and 90 percent of the Legislature are members of the faith. It has long been a part of church doctrine for members to abstain from drinking alcohol.

It could pose a possible challenge to Stevenson’s bill now that its been caught in the church’s shadow.

Bottles, freshly filled with beer, move on a belt at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Jan. 14, 2019 | Associated Press photo by Carrie Antlfinger, St. George News

Stevenson told The Salt Lake Tribune he’s not sure how the church’s opposition will impact the bill’s chances in the Legislature. He also has no intention of changing aspects of the bill to get the church’s blessing.

“I don’t see any place in this bill where there’s much room for negotiation,” Stevenson told the Tribune Monday. “We’ve got what we’ve got.”

Among others who oppose the bill is the Utah Brewers Guild.

While it favors increasing the alcohol content in beer, the guild also argues that Stevenson’s bill favors larger brewers like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors that have mass-produced product. That could push local and independent beer options off the shelf, the guild claims.

“The majority of our members are opposed to an arbitrary and incremental increase to 4.8 percent (alcohol by weight) as outlined in this bill,” Nicole Dicou, executive director of the guild, said in a statement. “They remain in favor of lifting the limit put on alcohol content of beer. However, this legislation would benefit out-of-state breweries at the expense of small, locally owned breweries who employ thousands of Utahns.”

Read more: See all St. George News reports and opinions on Utah Legislature 2019 issues


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Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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