SALT LAKE CITY — A push to raise the alcohol level in Utah beer in line with most of the U.S. hit a stumbling block Wednesday as a panel of lawmakers gutted the measure.
The vote called for study of the issue instead, a step that could mean nothing gets done, said Republican Sen. Jerry Stevenson.
That plan now heads for the House of Representatives.
Stevenson, though, said he's not giving up on getting the bill changed back to its original form, which has already overwhelmingly passed the state Senate.
"I don't think this will be done until the last night of the session," he said.
The proposal comes as large breweries discontinue weak beer products because other states are shedding similar alcohol limits, leaving a reduced market of two states: Utah and Minnesota.
That hurts retailers, including small stores that depend on beer revenues, Stevenson has said. Wal-Mart and other large grocery chains are supporting the effort to raise the alcohol limits.
Republican Rep. Brad Daw, on the other hand, said the possible negative effects of higher alcohol content warrant more study.
"I think we sent a pretty unambiguous message of where we're at," he said. "I'm very uncomfortable about making that kind of policy just because it gives somebody more money."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which most lawmakers belong to, is opposed to Stevenson's plan.
It would raise alcohol limits from 3.2 percent to 4.8 percent for beer available to grocery and convenience stores, as well as on tap in bars. That limit is still relatively low compared to the rest of the country, but would allow the sale of most production-line beers in private stores.
Higher-alcohol beer, as well as wine and spirits, are only available at state-owned liquor stores in Utah.
Most local craft brewers are also against Stevenson's plan, calling it an incremental increase that would favor big breweries.