Whiteclay bill advances

Published Monday March 1, 2010

LINCOLN — State lawmakers advanced a plan Monday to address the alcohol-related woes associated with Whiteclay, Neb., but only after there was a promise to strip out its $250,000 cost.

The plan, pushed by State Sens. LeRoy Louden and Russ Karpisek, ran into opposition from some senators who maintained it was “feel-good money” that wouldn’t solve those problems.

The vote to advance LB 1002 from first-round debate was 27-13.

Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley and Hastings Sen. Dennis Utter were among the lawmakers who questioned how effective the legislature’s plan would be if State of South Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Indian Tribe — two legs of a “three leged stool” — weren’t involved.

“Is this Nebraska’s problem alone?” Hadley asked. “Until we get the reservation, the State of South Dakota and Nebraska at the table, I don’t think a one-legged stool will solve the problem.”

He and other senators questioned whether the state could afford to spend money on Whiteclay with state funds so short.

Under the initial proposal, the state would allocate $250,000 a year to a grant program that could be used for economic development, law enforcement or health-care facilities like detoxification centers in the Whiteclay area.

But due to the opposition, Louden said he would strip out the $250,000 during second-round debate. That would leave Legislative Bill 1002 as a measure to hire an employee for the state Indian Commission to seek grants for Whiteclay.

Louden said that state funds could be sought next year.

Whiteclay has four beer-only liquor stores that sell more than 3 million cans of beer a year, mostly to residents of the officially dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation just across the Nebraska-South Dakota border.

Alcoholism and other liquor-related problems are rampant on the reservations, and supporters of the Louden-Karpisek bill say that Nebraska should at least start addressing the problems caused by the liquor sales.

“It’s probably the worst living environment anywhere,” said Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms. “We wouldn’t tolerate this it it wasn’t close to a reservation.”

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