General Affairs

Omnibus liquor law bill amended, advanced

After debate spanning two days, lawmakers amended a bill that would make a number of changes to Nebraska’s liquor laws before advancing it from select file April 6.

Sen. John Lowe
Sen. John Lowe

LB274, introduced by Sen. John Lowe of Kearney, would create a new promotional farmers market special designated license. Under the bill, farm wineries, craft breweries and micro-distilleries that currently are licensed to manufacture alcoholic beverages could apply for the SDL, which would allow sales at any farmers market for one year, subject to local approval.

Currently, such entities must apply for an SDL for each event at which they sell alcohol.

The bill was amended on general file to include provisions of LB578, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas. The provisions would create a new category of alcoholic beverage and set the excise tax at 95 cents a gallon. Ready-to-drink cocktails would be charged $3.75 per gallon without creation of the new category, which defines a ready-to-drink cocktail as spirits in an original container with up to 12.5 percent alcohol by volume.

Also included are provisions of LB72, introduced by Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln. Those provisions would allow the holder of a Class C or Y liquor license to sell alcohol not in the original package — such as a mixed drink, cocktail or wine slushies — for consumption off the premises. The holder of a Class I liquor license could do the same if the alcohol is not partially consumed and is purchased with food.

Geist introduced an amendment during select file debate March 31, adopted 41-0, that would require Class C, I and Y liquor license holders to inform the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission of their intention to sell alcohol not in its original package for off-premises consumption when applying for or renewing a license.

Lowe offered an amendment that would allow the holder of a Class B, C, D, L, Y or Z retail liquor license to sell alcohol to an individual 21 or older who is in a motor vehicle if the alcohol is sold along with food. The proposal would require alcohol to be placed in the vehicle’s trunk or in an area behind the last upright seat.

A licensee that chooses to sell alcohol in this manner would be required to provide notice to the LCC.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha supported the amendment. She said the provisions — originally authorized under an executive order signed by the governor in 2020 —have worked well over the past year.

“We did not see an increase in fatalities from drunk driving,” Hunt said.

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene said he originally supported LB274 but could no longer do so with the Lowe amendment attached. He said the amendment may have been intended to apply to grocery stores, but that its scope was broad enough to include any alcohol vendor.

“I don’t know of a liquor store that doesn’t sell a candy bar or a bag of chips,” Groene said.

Lawmakers adopted the Lowe amendment on a 36-1 vote.

Groene introduced an amendment when select file debate resumed April 6 that would allow Nebraska microdistilleries to produce up to 100,000 gallons annually. Under current law, microdistilleries are limited to production of 10,000 gallons annually.

Groene said some distilleries have shut down after reaching the current production cap.

“We need to fix this issue so they can grow,” he said.

Senators adopted the Groene amendment 40-0 and advanced LB274 to final reading on a voice vote.

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