Mormon church opposes plan to increase alcohol in Utah beer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church has come out against a proposal to allow more alcohol in Utah beer, a position that could hurt the state’s chances of joining most of the country in shedding low alcohol limits.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes the 50-percent increase that would allow standard, production-line beers in grocery stores and on tap, church lobbyist Marty Stephens said Monday.
The change would increase alcohol limits from 3.2 to 4.8 percent.
The opposition isn’t surprising from the faith that teaches abstinence from alcohol, Republican bill sponsor Sen. Jerry Stevenson said. It’s not yet clear how it might affect the proposal’s chances of passing, he said.
The church’s positions can hold serious sway in the state where nearly two-thirds of the population and close to 90 percent of lawmakers are members.
The proposal unanimously passed a committee vote last week, though there was pushback from substance-abuse counselors and conservative groups worried about kids possibly getting stronger beer. Several local microbreweries are also against the measure that they say favors big companies and would force them to overhaul recipes crafted to follow Utah laws.
Stevenson positions the plan as a commerce bill. In the past, several states had similar low-alcohol laws and large breweries made weaker products to sell there. But the limits have been abandoned in recent in years by Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas, leaving a market of just two states: Utah and Minnesota.
That’s meant it doesn’t make as much economic sense for companies like Anheuser-Busch to continue making the weaker brews, and shelves have begun to lose variety in Utah. Convenience stores and chains like Wal-Mart have encouraged customers to urge lawmakers to make a change.
The debate comes as sales increase at state-owned liquor stores, which sell stronger alcohol like wine and spirits. Sales leading up to New Year’s Eve this year were up 9 percent over the year before.