Lawsuits and alcohol impact zones target Whiteclay

By Joe Duggan / OMAHA WORLD-HERALD

A few bystanders stood on the fringe of a State Capitol news conference last week to hear about a lawsuit that aims to alleviate alcohol problems caused by beer sales in the unincorporated village of Whiteclay, Neb.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Oglala Sioux Tribe by Omaha lawyer Tom White, goes after the global brewers, the Nebraska distributors and the Whiteclay stores that sell beer to a population truly devastated by alcohol.

Sen. LeRoy Louden was one of the bystanders. The senator ranches near Ellsworth, which isn’t all that far from Whiteclay, so he has seen how beer from four off-sales stores in the village streams straight north to the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Louden has introduced a bill this session that would provide a tool that might help deal with the problems at Whiteclay. Legislative Bill 829 would create “alcohol impact zones,” which are areas plagued by public drunkenness or illegal activity tied to alcohol abuse.

The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission would create such zone at the request of local governments. If approved, the law would grant the commission broad power to place additional restrictions on liquor sales in the impact zone.

As reported by The World-Hearld’s Juan Perez Jr., the Omaha City Council voted recently to support Louden’s bill. No, you don’t have to drive all the way to Whiteclay to find neighborhoods ravaged by alcohol.

While Louden stopped short of saying he thinks White’s $500 million lawsuit is the right approach, he did say what’s going on in Whiteclay isn’t just a matter of personal responsiblity for those who buy the beer.

“Alcoholism is an addiction,” he said. “Alcoholism is a sickness and it needs to be treated as such.”

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