Session Review: General Affairs

Lawmakers considered several liquor and gaming law changes this session and revisited the issue of cigar bars.

Among the measures passed was the General Affairs Committee’s omnibus bill.

LB330, sponsored by O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson, makes several changes to the state’s liquor laws. The bill prohibits the possession or sale of alcohol in powdered form in Nebraska, while providing an exemption for research hospitals and other facilities.

Possession of powdered alcohol will 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.

The measure incorporates provisions of two bills originally introduced by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz. Provisions of LB486 allow an establishment holding a Class C liquor license to apply for a limited bottling endorsement, while provisions of LB204 provide tax credits to beer manufacturers who utilize local crops.

Portions of LB460, originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, also are included in the bill and require licensure of pedal pubs.

The bill makes a number of additional changes to the state’s liquor control laws, including:
• authorizing the Liquor Control Commission to dispose of confiscated alcohol;
• 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.

LB330 passed on a vote of 44-1.

Senators passed a bill intended to encourage assistance for underage drinkers in need of medical help.

LB439, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, grants legal immunity against a minor in possession charge to minors seeking help for themselves or someone else in need of immediate attention due to alcohol poisoning. The bill applies only to minors who request assistance after such an emergency is apparent and who fully cooperate with medical assistance and law enforcement.

An individual is prohibited from bringing an action against a peace officer or the employing state agency or political subdivision based on an officer’s compliance with the bill’s provisions.

LB439 passed on a 44-0 vote.

Lawmakers also approved a bill that exempts cigar and tobacco shops from the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act.

The bill was introduced in response to a 2014 Nebraska Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional the Legislature’s previous exemption of cigar bars and tobacco retail outlets from the statewide smoking ban.

Introduced by Larson, LB118 grants an exemption to businesses that exclusively sell smoking products and to cigar shops. A cigar shop is defined as an establishment that:
• has a liquor license;
• does not sell food;
• generates at least 10 percent of its gross revenue from the sale of cigars, tobacco and tobacco-related products, not including cigarettes;
• has a walk-in humidor; and
• does not allow cigarette smoking.

The bill requires cigar shop employees to sign a form acknowledging that they will be exposed to secondhand smoke and know the health risks involved. LB118 passed 45-3 and takes effect immediately.

Three gaming bills were considered this session.

Currently, the Nebraska Constitution specifically prohibits the Legislature from authorizing any additional games of chance. Gaming can be expanded in Nebraska only through constitutional amendment.

LR10CA, introduced by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2016 general election ballot that would allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate any game of chance, lottery or gift enterprise.

After briefly debating the proposal on general file, senators voted 27-16 to indefinitely postpone the measure.

LB619, introduced by Larson, would allow for a special designated poker license and poker endorsement in Nebraska. The bill was advanced to general file by the committee but was not debated this session.

LB250, also introduced by Larson, would remove the current 5-minute time limit required between Keno games. The bill remains in committee.

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