Nebraska activists scold commission for Whiteclay beer sales

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – The director of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission says that without substantive proof, it cannot act on allegations that beer-sellers in Whiteclay are abusing their licenses.

Activists called on the commission Tuesday to withhold liquor licenses from the town’s four beer stores, saying vendors sell to pregnant women, minors and customers who are already drunk. But agency director Hobert Rupe said he needs witnesses to go on the record.

Whiteclay, population 14, sells the equivalent of about 4 million cans of beer each year. It borders South Dakota’s dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcoholism runs rampant and Whiteclay is often blamed for contributing to the problem.

The nearest law enforcement is more than 20 miles away from Whiteclay, said John Maisch, the former assistant attorney general in Oklahoma and a University of Central Oklahoma law professor. Maisch said a liquor license is a privilege, not a right, and it is the commission’s duty to withhold licenses from sellers that lack adequate law enforcement nearby.

South Dakota foster parent Nora Boesem said one in four children on Pine Ridge are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. She and her husband have cared for more than 150 children with the condition, including two that have died, and believes that fetal alcohol syndrome begins at Whiteclay.

Deveron Baxter, a member of the Omaha tribe whose father died from alcohol addiction, said he owned a small hot dog stand in downtown Lincoln, where much of the city’s nightlife is located, and watched law enforcement and administration take swift action against all reported liquor license violations. Baxter said prejudice and apathy prevent the commission’s intervention at Whiteclay.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is backing a small committee that met for the first time last week to address the complaints about Whiteclay. Members include owners of grocery and liquor stores in Whiteclay, the county attorney and sheriff of Sheridan County, the mayor of Rushville and the head of a Christian outreach program.

Committee member James Krotz, a Sheridan County commissioner, said past efforts have been large town hall-style meetings and he hopes a smaller, more concentrated effort can create and achieve tangible goals. Members hope to have a more specific plan in hand before the summer, but he said there’s an informal pact to remain tight-lipped until then.

Frank LaMere, a Native American activist from South Sioux City, said he is disappointed the committee members do not include more women and Native Americans.

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