Bill to restrict alcohol sales is debated

Story by Ross Benes, NewsNetNebraska

While a bill that allows the state to restrict alcohol sales in certain areas  may not be a cure-all, it is a step in the right direction for communities that grapple with alcohol problems, several people testified Monday.

Sen. Leroy Louden of Ellsworth said he introduced LB829 as a way of helping communities deal with alcohol abuse in problem areas. Under the bill, local governments could petition the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission to declare areas as alcohol impact zones and restrict the hours of alcohol sale and types and amounts of alcohol sold, Louden said.

“This isn’t a silver bullet that will cure alcoholism,” Louden told the General Affairs Committee, which is considering the bill.  “But it’s a step toward progress in helping to fix some of the (alcohol) problems people in my district have had.”

Louden’s District 49 includes Whiteclay, Neb., which borders the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and has attracted negative publicity for selling alcohol to reservation residents.

Since alcohol is illegal on the reservation, many Native Americans cross the border to nearby Whiteclay to purchase liquor.  The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota filed a $500 million lawsuit on Feb. 9 that alleges brewers, retailers and distributors in Whiteclay are responsible for the massive amounts of alcohol consumed and the collateral damages caused to Pine Ridge.  The suit alleges Whiteclay businesses sell 5 million cans of beer annually.

But Whiteclay wasn’t the only trouble spot Louden had in mind when he introduced the bill.  He said he’s received support from leaders in Omaha as well as support from tribal leaders outside of Pine Ridge.

Judi M. gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, spoke in support of the measure.

“I hope the committee can pass this bill,” she said. “Though it won’t solve the problem, it will be progress.  Though there are laws in Whiteclay, they haven’t been enforced.   We need to enforce our laws in our state.”

If Whiteclay were declared an alcohol impact zone, Louden believes the situation would improve simply by preventing beer from being sold in the morning.

“I’ve talked to people in my district and they thought it would help if they didn’t start selling beer until noon,” Louden said in an interview.  “Perhaps there wouldn’t be people laying around drunk quite so long then, and the rest of the town could get more business done.”

However, Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins disagreed.

“If you can’t buy [alcohol] in Whiteclay until noon, people will buy beer in Gordon at 8 a.m.,” he said.

Others opposed to the bill included the Nebraska Licensed Beverage Association, Nebraska Grocery Industry Association and Nebraska Retail Federation.

“If they create an impact zone, there is no preventing the liquor commission from revoking an existing license at the same time, with the way the bill is currently written,” said Jim Moylan of the Nebraska Licensed Beverage Association.

“This is a Whiteclay bill,” he said. “Whiteclay has been rung through the washing machine and ringer for over 20 years now.”

“But they shouldn’t apply this to the whole state,” Moylan said, noting that he could support a measure if it applied only to counties with less than 1,000 people.