Just how the state should handle flavored malt beverages remains an issue, despite a change approved by the legislature this past session.
State lawmakers approved LB 824 during the past session, placing flavored malt beverages on the same taxing level as beer. They also approved LR 586, calling on the General Affairs Committee to conduct an interim study on the issue.
A member of the committee, Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial, says flavored malt beverages such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Jeremiah Weed shouldn’t be considered the same as beer.
“As you remember, I was part of the opposition to putting these beverages under the beer definition which would tax them at the same level as beer,” Christensen tells fellow committee members. “I believe they are different enough products to deserve their own category for taxation.”
A big issue in the discussion is whether the liquor industry targets teen-agers in its marketing of the flavored malt beverages, sometimes called alcopops.
Industry lobbyist Mike Mines denies the charge.
“For too long, opponents of flavored malt beverages have wrongly accused the industry of targeting under-age drinkers,” Mines testifies. “The Federal Trade Commission disapproved this old adage in a 2003 report.”
Executive Director for the Nebraska Liquor Commission, Hobert Rupe, tells committee members he’s not sure whether legislators should be worried about Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Smirnoff Ice.
“If I were to say what category are most younger people using illegally; you still have beer as number one. But, the one I would be more concerned about on the rise are the flavored vodka lines. Those are appealing to kids, because they’re sweet, but they’re able to afford the $25 for a bottle of that,” Rupe stated.
The committee study will be handed to the legislature with recommendations.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE