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Stronger beer fight may not be over

Sen. Stevenson says that economic rather than moral factors motivated his 4.8 percent beer bill. (Photo; Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — SB-132 was defeated yesterday.  The bill which would allow 4.8% alcohol content in beer to be sold at grocery and convenience stores did not pass out of a House panel.

But, several groups are looking to get the hot topic in front of voters in 2020.

The director for the Responsible Beer Choice Coalition, Kate Bradshaw, and President of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, Dave Davis, might launch an initiative to put the debate in front of the voters.

In response to some legislative committee members who say selling stronger beer in retail stores would lead to more underage drinking and drunk driving, the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jerry Stevenson, (R-Layton) says those who drink 3.2% beer responsibly will also drink 4.8% beer responsibly.

SB-132 sailed through Utah’s Senate last week with a 27-2 vote.  Then House leaders sent the bill to the Health and Human Services Committee.  Stevenson says this is a commerce bill and it was sent to this particular committee for the sole purpose of not allowing it to pass.

The panel endorsed a substitute bill which will create a task force to study the issue of stronger beer. But both Bradshaw and Davis voiced doubts the task force will ever decide to raise alcohol content for beer sold in stores.

The vice-president of Maverick stores, David Hancock, also weighed in saying, “the bill is not about IF higher alcohol content beer will be sold, but WHERE it is sold.”  State-run liquor stores already carry 4.8% alcohol beer.

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Credit: Steven Breinholt, Deseret News

Hancock also stated Maverik stores will lose $2.5 million in sales as they’ve invested a lot of time and money training employees how not to sell beer to minors.  If they continue to lose money, Hancock says the chain may have to lay off workers.

So, the debate continues and voters may have their chance to weigh in at the ballot box in 2020.