Nebraska Legislature to examine issues in White Clay

Published Wednesday June 3, 2009

Sheridan County has the distinction of raising more tax revenue from the sale of alcohol than the rest of the counties in the state of Nebraska combined. The source of this revenue is the tiny town of White Clay population 17. A one mile stretch of road immediately south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, White Clay is home to four beer stores which thrive on sales from Pine Ridge residents where alcohol is prohibited.

Recently a resolution was introduced in the General Affairs Committee of the Nebraska Legislature regarding a number of issues and concerns relating to conditions in White Clay.

The purpose, as stated in Legislative Resolution 199, is: “to examine and review the situation in White Clay, Nebraska, regarding the sale of alcohol and its secondary effects.” The study shall also include recommendations for what, if anything, should be done to address the issues regarding alcohol sales in White Clay.

Specifically, according to the Resolution, the study may include, but is not limited to, the following:

1. An examination of whether the White Clay alcohol licenses are violating the Nebraska Liquor Control Act;

2. An examination of the socioeconomic impact of alcohol and related issues on the White Clay area;

3. An examination of whether the Nebraska Liquor Contol Act is effective in its current form or whether changes should be made to more effectively address the issues in White Clay;

4. An examination of whether law enforcement efforts to enforce the Nebraska Liquor Control Act and other state and federal statutes are effective; and

5. An examination of the relationship between local and state authorities, Pine Ridge Native American authorities, the State of South Dakota, and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Resolution concludes with the points “That the General Affairs and Judiciary Committees of the Legislature shall be designated to conduct a joint interim study to carry out the purposes of the Resolution,” and, “That the committees shall upon the conclusion of their study make a report of their findings, together with their recommendations, to the Legislative Council or Legislature.”

In early March, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning accompanied the Chairman of the General Affairs Committee, Senator Russ Karpisek, along with Senator Colby Coash, Chair of the newly revived Tribal Affairs Committee of the Legislature, on a tour of White Clay. Shortly after their fact-finding trip the Omaha World-Herald ran a series of feature articles which included their impressions and intentions to study the controversial issues.

Most likely, the timetable for establishment of public hearings/study sessions by the legislature will be in early fall of 2009. It is likely that a public hearing will be held at some point in Rushville; an opportunity for area residents to express their views and concerns.

Earlier this year, Lincoln resident/filmmaker [Mark Vasina] produced a DVD which chronicles the struggles in the tiny Nebraska town entitled “Battle for White Clay.” The film has been shown in numerous venues across the state including several public colleges.

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