Lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that limits the sale of so-called "alcohol-pops" to state liquor stores and allows stronger mixed drinks to be served in bars and restaurants.
SB211 was passed 54-19 by the House Tuesday and now goes to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Huntsman, who wants to loosen the state's liquor laws, didn't like all of the bill but has told lawmakers he wouldn't veto it.
Several House members suggested the bill should be sent to an interim study committee. But the House sponsor, Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said that would just be a delay.
"We're on the 44th day. It's time to vote up or down," Urquhart said. "Let's not punt this."
Much of the discussion focused on the provision in the bill to remove flavored malt beverages like Mike's Hard Lemonade from grocery and convenience stores and allow them to be sold only in state liquor stores.
That move, backed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was sought because critics of the sweet, soda-like beverages say they are marketed primarily to underage drinkers.
Under the bill, the beverages would be treated like liquor rather than the 3.2 percent alcohol beer sold in grocery stores. Although the alcohol content of the beverages is the same, much of it comes from distilled spirits rather than the malt base of beer.
That means the flavored malt beverages would only be able to be sold in state liquor stores and would be taxed at a higher rate, just like wine, liquor and higher-alcohol content beers.
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said moving the product into state liquor stores would permit the alcohol content to be boosted. "If we put it into liquor stores, the same kids are going to get it," he said.
But Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab, said he supported the bill because alcohol is "a gateway drug, something that young people don't recognize. Alcohol is a toxin. If you drink too much of it, it will kill you and I have seen that happen before."
The bill also deals with a number of other liquor-control issues, including the amount of alcohol that can be served. Current law allows up to 1 ounce of liquor in a mixed drink, plus up to 1.75 ounces of additional alcohol as flavorings.
Now the total amount of alcohol in a mixed drink will be limited to 1.5 ounces, meaning drinks that contain only a single liquor will be stronger. "Side cars," an extra ounce of the same alcohol served separately and added to the drink, have been eliminated.The governor wanted that change to help the state's policy toward alcohol move forward. He opposed moving the "alcohol-pops" into liquor stores as bad for the state's image but agreed not to veto the bill if it included the change in mixed-drink alcohol content.