Proposed penalties for powdered alcohol lowered

A bill that would make numerous changes to the state Liquor Control Act was amended and advanced from select file May 18.

O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson, sponsor of LB330, said the bill would make necessary updates to the act and assist the state’s Liquor Control Commission (LCC) in its regulatory capacity.

As amended on general file, the bill would prohibit the possession or sale of alcohol in powdered form in Nebraska, while providing an exemption for research hospitals and other facilities. The sale of powdered alcohol would be a Class I misdemeanor.

Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman offered an amendment during select file debate to change the penalty. He said lawmakers had raised concerns on general file that the punishment was harsher than what is currently meted out for selling marijuana.

“Last time we talked about this, I took note about the concerns about the penalties that were there,” Kolterman said.

Under the amendment, adopted 44-0, possession of powdered alcohol would carry the following penalties:
• an infraction and $300 fine for a first offense;
• a Class IV misdemeanor, $400 fine and up to five days of incarceration for a second offense; and
• a Class IIIA misdemeanor, $500 fine and up to seven days of incarceration for a third and all subsequent offenses.

Larson said a penalty should be applied only if an individual intended to sell the product. Powdered alcohol is legal in other states, he said, and people could bring the product into Nebraska for their own personal use without realizing that the state has prohibited it.

“This amendment is about pure possession and doesn’t differentiate between possession and intent to sell,” Larson said.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld supported the amendment, although he remained concerned about university students and others unknowingly violating the ban contained in LB330. However, he said, the current default punishment for possession of a banned substance under state law is even harsher than the penalties contained in Kolterman’s amendment.

Other provisions of the bill would make a number of changes to the state’s liquor control laws, including:
• providing tax credits to beer manufacturers who utilize local crops;
• authorizing the LCC to dispose of confiscated alcohol;
• requiring licensure of pedal pubs;
• allowing an establishment holding a Class C liquor license to apply for a limited bottling endorsement;
• allowing liquor licensees 30 days for a late renewal;
• applying laws relating to beer kegs to all kegs containing alcoholic liquor;
• defining hard cider as beer instead of wine;
• removing a prohibition on issuing liquor licenses within 150 feet of a home for the aged; and
• removing a mandatory hearing requirement for license applications within 150 feet of a church.

Hyannis Sen. Al Davis offered an amendment that would have removed the provision defining hard cider as beer instead of wine. He said the provision would benefit large, out-of-state manufacturers and could harm Nebraska craft brewers.

The amendment failed on a 17-10 vote.

An amendment offered by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, would have reinstated automatic hearings when an establishment located within 150 feet of a church applies for a liquor license. It also failed on a 13-22 vote.

After four hours of debate, Larson offered a motion to invoke cloture—or cease debate and force a vote on a bill. The motion was adopted 35-5 and the bill advanced to final reading 40-3.

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