Opponents to New Ala. Beer Law Say Higher Alcohol Content Unsafe

March 6, 2008

The Alabama House passed a bill Tuesday that would allow the sale of gourmet and imported beers that have an alcohol content as high as 13.9 percent.

Under current law, beer sold in Alabama can’t have an alcohol level higher than 6 percent.

The House passed the measure known around the Statehouse as the “Free the Hops” bill on a 48-42 vote after a spirited debate.

Opponents argued the bill would make it easier for young people to become intoxicated and would increase alcohol-related deaths in automobile accidents. But supporters said the specialty beers cost as much a $7 to $10 a bottle and would be too expensive for teenagers seeking a quick high.

Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, said young people would find a way to buy the gourmet beer.

“I’m here to tell you a kid who can afford a $150 pair of tennis shoes, certainly can afford to pay a little more for a beer,” Laird said. He complained that the Legislature spends too much time passing bills the relax the state’s laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages.

“We continue to support something that’s killing more of our young people in one year than we’ve had killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in a couple of years,” Laird said.

But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said the bill will give Alabama residents a chance to buy imported beers from Korea, Germany and other countries that have opened industries in Alabama in recent years.

Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, urged lawmakers to pass the bill. He said when police arrest people for drinking and driving, they don’t find gourmet beer in the cars.

“Beer is already legal in Alabama. It is not an illegal substance,” Gipson said.

The bill now goes to the Senate for debate.

Jackson introduced the same bill last year, but it died when there were not enough votes to bring it up for debate. Jackson was awarded the “shroud” award last year for having the “deadest bill” in the House.

Several legislators said legalizing the specialty beers would help draw more tourists, since the beers are already available in most states.

“People in my district have to travel to Atlanta to get these beers. I would sure like for that sales tax money to stay in the state of Alabama,” said Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham.

But Rep. DuWayne Bridges, D-Valley, said he believes the higher alcohol content beers will soon find their way into the hands of teenagers.

“If it’s out there they are going to get it,” Bridges said.

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