Judge could rule soon to let beer stores keep licenses

By JULIA SHUMWAY Markets Associated Press

A judge could rule soon on whether to let four Nebraska stores near a South Dakota Indian reservation keep selling alcohol while they appeal a state regulator's decision not to renew their liquor licenses.

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The stores sell millions of cans of beer each year in Whiteclay, an unincorporated village about 360 miles (580 kilometers) northwest of Omaha, and are set to lose their licenses Sunday. They are appealing a decision last week by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission to deny their renewal applications based on concerns about inadequate law enforcement in the area. The judge could rule as soon as Thursday.

Andrew Snyder, an attorney representing the beer store owners, asked Lancaster County District Court Judge Andrew Jacobsen on Wednesday to stay the commission's decision and allow the stores to automatically renew their liquor licenses, as they have in previous years.

"Without a license, they can't run a business," Snyder said. "They're going to lose money."

Snyder said the commission's decision was arbitrary and did not consider all evidence. He said the commission erred by requiring his clients to turn in long-form renewal applications for their liquor licenses when nothing had changed.

Milissa Johnson-Wiles, an assistant attorney general representing the liquor control commission, said regulators found the stores were a threat to public health and safety. They sell beer and malt liquor 200 yards (180 meters) south of the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which still struggles with fetal alcoholism and one of the lowest life expectancies in the Western Hemisphere.

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Advocates who want the stores closed said they often see displays of public drunkenness and human waste in the streets and have heard reports of sexual assault. The state Legislature gave final approval Tuesday to a bill creating a task force including senators, public health officials and the executive director of the Commission on Indian Affairs to investigate public health problems.

"In this case, as the commission's order shows, a lot has changed," Johnson-Wiles said.

She said an inquiry into the liquor stores was long overdue, and the commission would be in a difficult position if Jacobsen chooses to issue a stay and allow the beer stores to automatically renew their licenses.

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