SALT LAKE CITY -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it does not support a bill to eliminate 3.2 beer in Utah.
"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," Marty Stephens, the LDS Church's Director of Government Relations, said in a statement to FOX 13.
The Church's statement did not surprise the bill's sponsor, or groups who support Senate Bill 132.
"I don’t believe there’s any way they can support that bill," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. "And, in fact, I doubt there’s a way they can stay neutral."
The LDS Church is a powerful presence on Utah's Capitol Hill and the faith's positions on alcohol policy are well known.
"They are, of course, a significant factor," said Kate Bradshaw of the Responsible Beer Choice Coalition, which supports SB132. "Ninety percent of the Utah State Legislature adheres to their faith so it does make them a significant player and a factor. We hope to just appeal to the reasonableness of what we’re putting forward. It’s a small modest change. It’s respectful of Utah’s unique culture. It’s respectful of public safety concerns, but it does address the significant market pressures of being the last significant 3.2 beer market."
As a result of bigger beer states ditching 3.2 beer, Utah is left with dwindling product on store shelves. SB132 raises the legal definition from 3.2 to 4.8% alcohol by weight.
Local brewers have opposed SB132, wanting to raise the alcohol content even higher. They have argued the bill benefits only "mega-brewers" like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.
During the Senate Business and Labor Committee's hearing last week, lawmakers questioned whether increasing the alcohol content truly represented a 50% increase. The bill passed unanimously.
Sen. Stevenson said the LDS Church's position won't change him running his bill. He believed there are enough votes to pass the Utah State Senate, but was not sure about the House of Representatives.
"I’ve looked at this for three years now. There’s momentum building, has been for quite a while now and I don’t just think it’s a retailer-sponsored bill now. This is real. There will be active constituents if we don’t look at doing something," he said, suggesting beer drinkers would be angry at a lack of choice on store shelves.
SB132 could come up for a vote in the Utah State Senate later this week. Previously, supporters of the legislation have told FOX 13 they would not rule out a 2020 ballot initiative for beer (and wine) in grocery and convenience stores.
"I would say nothing is off the table at this point," Bradshaw said.