Businesses wait for decision on whether tribe’s rules apply

PENDER, Neb. (AP) - Business owners in the northeast Nebraska town of Pender are eagerly waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the Omaha Tribe’s liquor taxes apply to them.

The case has been pending since the business owners sued in 2007. The Supreme Court agreed this fall to hear the dispute that centers on the boundaries of the tribe’s reservation.

Jessica Frazey told the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/1R5PMa4) she and her husband have delayed repairs to their convenience store because they don’t know what the Omaha Tribe’s liquor tax would mean for their business.

“We would have to look at not having beer or liquor. I’m worried it’s going to cripple our business,” Jessica Frazey said.

The tribe’s alcohol rules require a separate license costing $500 to $1,500 a year and impose a 10 percent tax. Those fees and taxes would be on top of what’s already collected for the state.

Tom Welsh, who owns Welsh’s Bar in Pender, said he also might stop selling alcohol if the court allows the tribe to impose its rules. But he said he might lose customers to businesses in neighboring towns.

“If we have to quit selling alcohol, we will. We’ll just go to strictly selling food,” Welsh said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. Hopefully we don’t have to find out.”

The case centers on 50,000 acres of land that were originally part of the Omaha Reservation before they were sold to white settlers in the 1880s. Lower courts have now decided that the land sales didn’t change the reservation’s boundaries, which would make Pender and the surrounding area part of the reservation.

Attorney Gene Summerlin, who represents Pender, said this case could establish whether the Omaha Tribe has the authority to regulate other aspects of life in Pender.

“The dispute we’re currently having involves alcohol but in reality goes far beyond that,” he said.

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