Senator responds to criticism of bill that would bring 4.8% beer to Utah’s grocery stores

Feb 14, 2019, 2:42 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2019, 9:24 am
Credit: Steven Breinholt, Deseret News

A bill that would allow increase the limit of alcohol in beer sold in grocery stores from 3.2 percent to 4.8 percent by weight has been moving swiftly through the legislative system. It passed through a Senate Committee hearing with unanimous support on Thursday and is expected to formally appear before the Senate floor by the end of the week.

Utah’s beer bill, however, found a new opponent yesterday when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement reading:

“The church opposes SB132 in its current form. We, along with other community groups, oppose legislation which represents a 50 percent increase in alcohol content for beer sold in grocery and convenience store.”

KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic sat down with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, and asked him for his reaction to the church’s statement, and Stevenson made his response clear: he’s not surprised in the least.

Sen. Stevenson on Utah’s beer bill

Utah Grocery Store Beer

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

“I would not expect the LDS Church to take a position other than opposing it,” Stevenson told Dave & Dujanovic. “If you look at the things they teach, this is a little bit in opposition of that.”

Indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has opposed the legislation on what appear to be largely moral grounds. The Church’s statement highlights the 50 percent increase in alcohol content the beer bill would entail, a reflection of the doctrine proscribing wine and strong drinks.

For his part, however, Stevenson doesn’t view the issue as a moral one as much as a matter of business and economics.

“It’s hard to legislate morality,” he says. “We can attempt it… but it doesn’t work very well.”

His concern, instead, is the economic impact that he believes Utah’s uniquely low limit on alcohol content could have in the future.

Other states, he says, have started to get rid of the 3.2 limit, and that’s making the expense of producing beer that can be sold in Utah less worthwhile for the major breweries.

“Cans have to be printed, stamped. Packages have to be printed. It’s a manufacturing nightmare,” Stevenson says.

That manufacturing nightmare doesn’t give the beer companies a lot of return. Eighty-five percent of all 3.2 percent beer is sold in either Oklahoma or Utah, and Utahns represent less than 0.5 percent of all beer drinkers in the United States.

If those beer manufacturers stopped selling in Utah, the impact on their bottom line would be small. However, the impact on Utah’s economy, Stevenson says, could be a major problem.

Utah residents spent nearly $428 million on alcohol in 2017, according to the Associated Press. Currently, local breweries only produce about 8 percent of that alcohol; the other 92 percent of that $428 million is entirely coming from beer companies headquartered out-of-state.

“That’s big business,” Stevenson says, “and business drives a lot of things in this state.”

He doesn’t shy away from admitting that business is driving his bill, as well. When asked by host Dave Noriega if his bill was the result of pressure from national companies, Stevenson, without a moment of hesitation, responded: “That’s exactly right.”

“I don’t know what [the Church’s statement] does to my legislation,” Stevenson told Dave & Dujanovic. It won’t be long, however, until he gets the answer. “It’s on the board and we’ll come to the Senate floor in the next two or three days.”

Stayed posted to KSL Newsradio for every update on Sen. Stevenson’s bill as it progresses.

More to the story

If you missed Dave & Dujanovic’s interview with Sen. Stevenson live from the Capitol on KSL Newsradio, you can still catch every word on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Senator responds to criticism of bill that would bring 4.8% beer to Utah’s grocery stores