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Will governor sign or veto craft beer bill?

JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant is not yet saying whether he’ll sign or veto a bill that would allow the sale of stronger beer in the state, including some craft brews that have been unavailable because of current regulations.

Bryant will review the measure after he gets it from the Legislature, his spokesman, Mick Bullock, said yesterday.

Senate Bill 2878 would permit the amount of alcohol by weight in beer to be raised from 5 percent to 8 percent.

The bill passed the House yesterday with no debate. After paperwork is processed, it should hit Bryant’s desk in the next few days. The bill passed the Senate March 12.

Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said Mississippi’s current beer regulations are the strictest in the nation. He said some people are driving out of state to buy stronger brews, and that’s causing Mississippi to lose some tax revenue.

Bryant, a Republican, became governor in January.

In January 2011, when he was lieutenant governor, Bryant told the Mississippi Business Journal for a beer article that he did “not see a reasonable public benefit to increasing the alcohol content in Mississippi.”

Butch Bailey, who lives near Hattiesburg, is president of a nonprofit group called Raise Your Pints, which has asked legislators for several years to expand Mississippi’s beer-buying possibilities by allowing a higher alcohol content. He said craft-beer fans are trying to hold off on toasting to victory until they see what Bryant is going to do.

Bailey said in an interview yesterday that the current law limits Mississippi to about 15 of the top 100 beer brands in the world. He said if the new law is enacted, about 70 of the top 100 brands would, theoretically, become available.

During past debates, some lawmakers have raised concerns that allowing the sale of stronger beer could lead to more drunken-driving and more injuries and deaths. Bailey said he believes craft-beer fans can be trusted.

“I feel like if people in Alabama can do it responsibly, so can people in Mississippi,” Bailey said.

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