Many groups back liquor license bill

Published Tuesday February 8, 2005

LINCOLN – A legislative proposal to give the State Liquor Control Commission more discretion was touted Monday as a way to bring beer sales under control in the reservation border town of Whiteclay, Neb.

But a lobbyist for the grocery industry told state lawmakers that Legislative Bill 530 would give the commission too much power.

It could backfire on grocery stores who want liquor licenses in growing areas of the state, said Kathy Siefken, executive director of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association.

Backers of the measure included Winnebago activist Frank LaMere, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Project Extra Mile organization against under-age drinking, Nebraskans for Peace and the Nebraska Licensed Beverage Association.

“The system isn’t working and it needs to be fixed,” said Diane Riibe of Project Extra Mile. “There are far too many liquor outlets in this state.”

She said Nebraska has one liquor license for every 380 people.

Liquor lobbyist James Moylan said his group supports the measure. He said it would give more monetary value to existing licenses.

Some committee members questioned whether LB 530 was too arbitrary and whether it would improve conditions at Whiteclay. The town of 14 residents has three liquor stores, which sell 11,000 cans of beer a day, most to residents of the officially dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

“Everybody wants to clean up that garbage up there – but does this do it?” asked State Sen. Mike Friend of Omaha.

The bill, drafted by Commission Executive Director Hobert Rupe, would allow the commission to consider whether a new license would increase demand on law enforcement or other services, or whether it would increase liquor violations.

It also would give the commission more authority to deny a license, even if the applicant otherwise met licensing criteria.

Rupe said the legislation might have allowed the commission to deny a license to a new Whiteclay liquor outlet after a previous one was shut down.

In other action Monday, restaurant and vineyard owners testified in favor of a bill that would allow their patrons to take home unfinished bottles of wine in a sealed doggy bag.

Under present law, taking home an unfinished bottle of wine violates state open container laws – as well as liquor licenses of restaurants not licensed to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption.

LB 388 would promote responsible drinking and community safety – and it might entice patrons into springing for an expensive bottle, said Gregg Vanier of the Venue Restaurant in Lincoln.

The committee voted 7-0 to send the bill to the Legislature for debate.

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