State legislators have taken a first step to addressing complaints that four liquor stores in tiny Whiteclay, Nebraska exists solely to fuel the alcoholism that plagues the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation across the border in South Dakota.
Legislative Bill 407 easily clears first-round debate, advancing on a 42-0 vote.
Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, which has Whiteclay in his district, told colleagues during floor debate on Thursday the four Whiteclay liquor stores provide the poison destroying the Oglala Lakota Tribe at Pine Ridge, selling nearly five million cans of beer a year, nearly all of it ending up in the hands of residents of the reservation, which officially bans liquor sales.
“And we have provided this pipeline for the booze to go from Nebraska into South Dakota,” Brewer said during legislative floor debate. “So for us to relinquish any responsibility to help fix this I struggle with.”
Under the bill, the Whiteclay Public Health Emergency Task Force would be comprised of five state lawmakers, plus non-voting members from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs.
An amendment adopted during debate eliminated positions reserved for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Economic Development. The Ricketts Administration stated that including those positions would have violated the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, though that claim was questioned by some lawmakers during debate.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln sponsors LB 407, stating Whiteclay has become a city of opportunity for those who would prey on the Oglala Lakota Tribe.
“It exists for the sole purpose of perpetuating the predatory sales to a vulnerable people of our Native American brothers and sisters,” Pansing Brooks told colleagues during debate. “In short, it presents a human tragedy, a moral tragedy, a legal tragedy, and a public health tragedy.”
The bill must clear two more rounds in the Unicameral before it can move to Gov. Ricketts’ desk.