Nebraska: Liquor regulators say restricting certain alcohol sales would help more than Whiteclay
Source: Journal Star
By Riley Johnson
Giving the state the power to restrict alcohol sales in certain areas could help solve problems in more than just Whiteclay, Nebraska Liquor Commission officials said Wednesday.
Commissioners recommended the Legislature consider creating so-called alcohol impact zones, an approach to reduce chronic public inebriation that was adopted in 2003 in Washington state.
Commission Chairman Bob Batt of Omaha said the measure could be used in parts of Omaha and Lincoln to ban sales of certain sizes and brands of alcohol — such as low-price beers and wines — which often contribute to public intoxication, trespassing, littering and other problems.
“This is not a Whiteclay bill,” Batt said Wednesday in an interview. “This is a state of Nebraska bill.”
But Commission Executive Director Hobert Rupe said that’s not how lawmakers saw it in 2012, the last time the state considered a similar bill.
That bill had the commission’s support, but it didn’t advance from committee, Rupe said.
Rupe said he believes lawmakers were concerned there wasn’t enough data on the effects of Washington’s policy.
He believes data from Washington have shown these zones can be effective in reducing certain types of crimes and police calls.
For instance, a 2009 survey found police calls for “person down” and public drinking in Seattle had decreased by about one-third after the city implemented alcohol impact zones in two urban areas.
Nebraska’s 2012 effort became mischaracterized as the Whiteclay bill, Rupe said.
However, Rupe and Batt said the restrictions could reduce public drunkenness often seen in Whiteclay, a town of 14 people, where four beer stores sold the equivalent of 3.9 million cans of beer last year. Whiteclay is just south of the South Dakota border and the Pine Ridge Reservation, where alcoholism is a significant problem.
But it could also help in bigger cities like Omaha, where the commission has worked to restrict single beer can sales but can only deal with the issue on a license-by-license basis.
Creating these zones would keep the problem from spreading to competing businesses within the same area, Rupe said.
“Instead of just picking this person here on this corner to be subject (to the rule) and their competitor across the corner doesn’t have to be, it would have to be that these restrictions are being placed on existing licensees in that geographic zone,” Rupe said.
Batt said if lawmakers introduced and enacted this proposal, local governments would have a new tool to use judiciously.
Public drunkenness in Omaha, Whiteclay and other Nebraska communities drains and strains police and emergency service resources, Batt said.
“There needs to be change,” he said.