MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–A new law in Alabama has raised the level of alcohol permitted in beer from 6 percent to 13.9 percent in the state, something pro-family advocates predict will have a detrimental effect on underage drinkers and other sectors of society.
Gov. Bob Riley signed the legislation May 22 after pro-alcohol lawmakers were persistent in obtaining the bill’s approval.
“We fought every day to hold them in check,” Sen. Hank Erwin, a Republican, told The Alabama Baptist newspaper. “We just didn’t have the strength to defeat them.
“We need to go back and not only educate our people in the churches but also educate our legislators as to the dangers of alcohol. We need to think long and hard before expanding alcohol accessibility,” Erwin said.
The increase in the allowed amount of alcohol opens the door for specialty and gourmet beers, including imports, that had been banned in Alabama. Previously, Alabama had the nation’s lowest alcohol limit on beer, along with Mississippi and West Virginia.
Dan Ireland, director emeritus of Alabama Citizens Action Program, said beer is the most accessible alcoholic drink in Alabama, amounting to about 70 percent of all alcohol sold.
“It is also the drink of choice of teenagers,” Ireland told The Alabama Baptist. “We don’t want teenagers who drink to get ahold of the higher alcohol content.”
Ireland said it’s possible under the new high-octane rule that a teenager could get drunk from drinking one beer.
Joe Godfrey, ALCAP’s executive director, dismissed proponents’ claims that teenagers wouldn’t be able to afford the kinds of beer that have a higher alcohol content.
“Studies show that the primary suppliers of alcoholic beverages to teenage drinkers, whether they know it or not, are parents who keep alcoholic beverages in their homes,” Godfrey said.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commended the state leaders who fought the legislation “with every ounce of their strength.”
“Regrettably, too many people in our culture have succumbed to the lie that alcohol is safe. It isn’t,” Duke told Baptist Press. “Now more people in Alabama will find that out the hard way.
“Alabama’s teens had more protections than just about any other state in the union. The state should have been proud of this, but instead they chose to become more like the rest of the states. It is heart-rending to think of the increased alcohol problems this decision will create,” Duke said.
Also, the legislature overrode Riley’s veto of a bill that reduces population requirements for holding a wet/dry referendum from 10,000 to 7,000 except in three counties.
Despite the alcohol setbacks, Erwin and other lawmakers were able to defeat bills seeking to expand electronic bingo gambling across the state. Todd Stacy, the governor’s press secretary, said he was not surprised by the gambling push during the legislative session.
“They do this every year,” Stacy said, according to The Alabama Baptist. “There is always an attempt by the gambling moguls to turn Alabama into the next Atlantic City or Biloxi.
“The bills once again failed because people out there understand and have communicated with their representatives that they don’t want to see the family friendly aspect of Alabama be tainted by casinos and adult entertainment parlors,” Stacy said.
Ireland said Alabama’s legislators are spending entirely too much time on such bills.
“With all of the absolute necessities of legislative issues pending — budgets, helping low-income people, health care and educational issues — such frivolous things as all the alcohol and gambling bills seem to be getting the attention of the legislators, and the question is, ‘Why?'” Ireland told The Alabama Baptist.
“They’ve got enough homework to do to keep the ship of Zion afloat without dealing with these bills that would hurt society and particularly our young people,” Ireland added.
Rep. Jimmy Martin, a Democrat and a member of First Baptist Church in Clanton, sponsored the legislation to remove the 10,000-person population requirement needed to call a vote on alcohol sales. He said the new law places smaller towns on the same playing field as larger towns by allowing them to keep tax money otherwise lost by residents traveling to nearby towns to purchase alcohol, The Alabama Baptist said.
Ireland, though, said the bill could have adverse effects on small municipalities that may not have basic police or emergency services to deal with alcohol-related problems.
“Nationwide, alcohol-related problems cost more than the revenue received from the sale of alcohol,” Ireland said. “Why legalize the sale of alcohol and then have to designate the money to protect the public from the sale of it? … The problems are always more than you take in.”
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.