Liquor licensing can be a confusing process
SCOTTSBLUFF - Understanding liquor licensing in Nebraska can be a confusing process.
“Until you’ve had a liquor license for a while, you don’t know a whole lot about what is required of you,” said Lynette Richards, project coordinator for the Monument Prevention Coalition.
WHAT IS IT?
There are 108 liquor licenses in Scotts Bluff County. Richards said 99 percent of them serve alcohol legally and are in compliance with the law. What she has seen over the years is that it may not be the business that is not in compliance, but with employees who may see serving to minors as a big deal.
“It is important and anyone who is cited should think and consider it a serious thing,” she said.
The duties of the liquor control commission include the promotion of the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state and encourage temperance in the consumption of alcohol through careful regulation of manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic liquor.
The three commissioners who make up the LCC adopt rules and regulations in order to carry out the Nebraska Liquor Control Act.
There are two types of liquor licenses - annual and special designated licenses - that can be applied for in the state of Nebraska. An annual license must be renewed on a yearly basis and is the most common type people are familiar with. This is the license a liquor store or convenience store will apply for.
An SDL is required when there are circumstances where alcoholic beverages are served, sold, consumed/samples taken as orders that are included as part of an event or given away.
“Any of us could get that license if we have an event,” Richards said. “It’s for the one event for one day.”
The SDL will go before the local governing board. If there are an complaints or support, that is when individuals can present their case.
“It’s not just a time to complain that, ‘I don’t like this person,’” She said. “You need grounds and you need documentation.”
Each license must go through a lengthy multi-step process before it is given out. The first step is to apply in whatever town they plan to have the license. The town can then approve or deny the application.
Regardless of outcome, the town, in the case of the city of Scottsbluff, the city council will send their recommendation to the LCC.
“In the long run, it’s up to the commission to approve or deny the license,” Richards said.
This is where advocacy groups and individuals can have an impact in the community.
Whether a group like MPC or an individual objects to the approval or denial of a license, there is a 10-day window in which a citizens protest can be made to contest the city’s decision.
The nine-member Liquor License Investigatory Board in Scottsbluff was created in 2006 to oversee new and current liquor license applicants and holders. The board’s comments are used at Scottbluff City Council meetings, which considers all liquor license requests in the city. The council then makes recommendations to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, which has the final say on license approvals.
The investigatory board meetings consist of the city clerk, a city administrator, city attorney, chief of police, two liquor license holders, and a member each of Western Nebraska Community College, Scottsbluff Public Schools, and Gering Public Schools, Richards said.
There are no medical, public health, clergy or prevention representatives on the board.
“We were told when it was created we could not be on it because it was a conflict of interest,” Richards said. “Even though I fought it and felt we should be on there, it’s still a good thing because they really look into things.”
If a license holder is found guilty of a violation, The Liquor Commission can suspend, cancel, or revoke a license. A suspension may be paid off in lieu of serving the suspension period at a rate of $50 a day for the first offense or $100 per day if the license holder had a violation with the last four years.
If a license is canceled, that business can no longer sell alcohol, however, owners may reapply for a new license.
“Usually what they do is change a few things in the makeup of the business,” she said. “It (cancellation) doesn’t have much teeth.”
In rare cases, a license is revoked. If this were to occur, a business owner can never again be granted a license to sell alcohol in the state of Nebraska.
Richards cited one local business that had many issues in the past, but who also saw the value in training and has now sent all their employees to learn how to properly serve and sell alcohol.
Most violations that Richards has seen in the last 10 years have been selling after hours to a minor and selling to an intoxicated person.
STEPS FOR COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Richards and the members of MPC, along with other concerned individuals, have continued to raise whatever concerns they have over the years. They have not always been successful, but Richards said it is important for people to voice their concerns, regardless of the issues and be involved in what happens in their community.
Richards said there are many ways to be informed and involved including attending city council meeting when proposed liquor licenses are presented, speaking to the council to express any concerns, including health and safety issues, and what you may have witnessed involving a license holder.
“Get smart about it,” she said. “Know what the law is and be prepared beforehand.”