By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – Less than a week after he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, a Nebraska senator is moving forward with a bill that would allow some bars to sell sealed jugs of beer for takeout.
Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh did not withdraw the bill, but was absent during the public hearing on it Monday. Lautenbaugh is a member of the General Affairs Committee that held the public hearing. He attended the hearing before his bill came up but left shortly before his bill hearing began.
Instead of introducing the bill, Lautenbaugh let his aide, Brent Smoyer, do the talking for him. Smoyer said Lautenbaugh “sends his regrets” but had three bills with hearings Monday and had “fires to put out.”
Smoyer said the point of the bill, LB 456, is to create parity between taverns and brew pubs – which are allowed to sell so-called growlers — usually a one-gallon, dark brown, glass jug of sealed beer that can be taken home. The bill is designed “to erase the disparity” between brew pubs and other bars, Smoyer said.
However, he said Lautenbaugh would be OK with doing an interim study on the issue instead of passing the bill.
Lautenbaugh was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy for driving erratically at 2 a.m. in Omaha and had a .234 blood alcohol content — nearly three times the legal limit. The next day, he apologized, said he takes responsibility for the incident and will undergo an alcohol evaluation and follow any recommendations resulting.
Mike Kelley of Blatt Brew & Table in Omaha said the bill is not designed for jugs full of Bud Light.
“This is for the high-end stuff,” he said. But he’d like to see more input from the industry and an interim study.
The Nebraska Licensed Beverage Association supports the bill for draft beer drinkers who can’t get their preferred beer in bottles or cans. Project Extra Mile, a consortium that works to prevent underage drinking, submitted a letter opposing the bill.
But craft brewer Matt Stinchfield of Ploughshare Brewing Co. in Lincoln testified against the bill, saying it would hurt the craft beer industry. He also cited concerns about the quality of brews after they leave bars, compliance with labeling standards and liability. He said the growlers are “likely to be filled with major lagers sold at a discount” and specialty beers with up to 11 percent alcohol.
“For a brewery this is a vital income stream,” Stinchfield told lawmakers.
Hobert Rupe, executive director of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, was neutral on the bill, but said he’s OK with doing a study on the issue.
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