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Update: House Committee Pours Cold Water On Beer Bill, Proposes Task Force Instead

Austen Diamond for KUER

Updated 3:30 p.m. MST 3/6/19

A bill to raise the alcohol limit of beer sold in grocery and convenience stores from 3.2 percent alcohol by weight to 4.8 percent met stiff resistance in a House committee Wednesday morning and was changed substantially before getting the green light.

The new version, written by Rep. Brad Daw, would instead create a task force to study whether the state needs to raise the limit of beer sold in grocery stores.

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted 7-4 against passing the original bill, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. It then adopted Daw’s substitute.

“I’d rather have a good, hard look at what we’re going to be doing to ourselves before we pass this,” Daw said of his substitution.

“I suspect you’re not a big fan,” Daw said to Stevenson, who replied, “That’s correct.”

At the outset of the hearing, Stevenson predicted his own bill would die, noting that it was scheduled before the Health and Human Services Committee rather than the Business and Labor Committee.

After the hearing, Stevenson said he does not support the new version and doesn’t know if there will be an effort to restore the bill to its original form on the House floor. Either way, if the bill passes the House it would need to come back to the Senate, which would give Stevenson an opportunity to fight for his original bill.

“It’ll be interesting to see what comes back to us,” the Layton Republican said. “It’s not over.”

Stevenson, who is the legislative point person for alcohol policy, pitched the measure as a way to increase consumer choices for beer products in grocery stores. Several states including Oklahoma and Colorado have moved away from 3.2 percent beer in recent years, and large brewers have pulled back production.

Kate Bradshaw with the Responsible Beer Choice Coalition says several products, such as six-pack cans of Bud Light and bottles of Corona, have already been discontinued.

She does not support the new version, noting that a task force “means that we go the rest of 2019 and a good portion of 2020 with no resolve to this issue whatsoever.”

Bradshaw also believes the makeup of the task force would be biased against allowing heavier beer in on store shelves. Her group has threatened a ballot initiative to put stronger beer and wine in grocery stores if the legislature doesn’t pass Stevenson’s original bill.

Local independent brewers are divided on the issue. Some say the original bill would largely benefit mega-brewers like Anheuser-Busch.

Grocery store aisles are already “filled with beers like Budweiser and Coors and a little bit of Utah craft beer,” said Red Rock Brewing Company owner Robert Jensen.

But Colby Frazier, head brewer at Salt Lake City’s Fisher Brewing Company said he would welcome the opportunity to make and experiment with stronger brews.

“I think this step up would be a moderate, responsible way to inch the needle in a direction that, as a brewer, I’ve always wanted it to go,” Frazier said.

After the committee hearing, Stevenson joked that while he does not drink beer, “I get the blessings and the blame and all the stuff that comes with it” when he runs alcohol bills.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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