Alcohol lobbyists oppose bill

Published Thursday February 4, 2010

LINCOLN — Even lobbyists for the liquor industry agreed Wednesday that it was a good idea for the state to help establish an alcohol detoxification center near Whiteclay, Neb.

The lobbyists, though, said there were better ways to do that than earmark a portion of sales tax revenue generated by the 3.4 million cans of beer sold in the notorious, unincorporated town known as the “skid row of the Plains.”

The lobbyists testified against a proposal to address the long festering, alcohol-related problems linked to Whiteclay.

The village has drawn national notoriety for its four beer-only liquor stores. Almost all of the beer is sold to residents of the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, across the border in South Dakota, where alcohol is banned and where alcoholism and related problems are rampant.

State Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, who represents the Whiteclay area, has proposed using 70 percent of the sales tax revenue generated by liquor sales in the Whiteclay area — about $270,000 a year — for health facilities, economic development and law enforcement within 30 miles of the town.

Legislative Bill 1002 could help finance a detox center at a nursing home being proposed in Whiteclay, said officials with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

“All we’re asking is, give us some of that money we give you back so we can help our tribal members,” said Theresa Two Bulls, the tribal president, during a public hearing Wednesday before the Legislature’s Revenue Committee.

The liquor lobbyists said the industry opposes such “earmarking” of taxes paid on alcohol. They suggested that a better approach would be LB 1005, introduced by Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek. That bill proposes allocating $250,000 in general state tax funds.

Lobbyist Walt Radcliffe said the money would be offset by about $500,000 in additional revenue that would be generated through an increase in liquor shipping fees, which is proposed in another Karpisek bill.

Louden said he’s willing to look at changes in his bill, although LB 1005 calls for only a one-time allocation and appears focused on helping an alcohol-rehab center in Gordon, Neb.

Louden said his bill won’t solve the multiplicity of problems associated with Whiteclay, but said that “somehow, we have to make a start. This is a start.”

During the hearing, Omaha Sen. Tom White, a lawyer, said the tribe would have a good chance of winning a lawsuit that accused the Whiteclay liquor stores of “aiding and abetting” the violation of the reservation’s alcohol ban. The stores, he said, are selling a product that can’t legally be consumed.

“We’re killing people across the border for profit,” White said. “I can’t tell you how morally reprehensible that is.”

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