Few Nebraska lawmakers participating in an Associated Press survey say they support legislation making liquor license holders liable for serving intoxicated customers who leave their establishments and hurt themselves or others.
But one lawmaker has plans to introduce a proposal for a so-called dram shop law.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege said Nebraska, which is one of a handful of states without such a law, is behind the times and he believes such legislation is needed.
“If it saves lives, I think it’s worth it,” he said.
In a pre-session survey of state senators, 13 of the 49 said they don’t support imposing such liabilities. Fifteen others were unsure. Five, counting Carlson, said they support it. Sixteen others didn’t participate.
The National Conference of State Legislatures counts seven states that don’t have a dram shop law: Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Nevada, Louisiana, South Dakota and Virginia. It doesn’t include Nebraska in the list because it has a law that makes those who provide alcohol to underage drinkers liable, said policy specialist Matthew Gever.
The liability laws, named from the days when alcohol was measured in drams, generally make bars and other establishments that serve alcohol responsible in cases where they serve customers they know or should have known were intoxicated.
Carlson said Nebraska athletic director and friend Tom Osborne urged him to introduce a dram shop bill. Hearing the story of a woman who lost her husband to a drunk driver also helped push him to act, he said.
Sen. Kent Rogert of Tekamah said there are too many unknown circumstances that keep him from supporting such legislation.
“All that would be accomplished, in my opinion, from a dram shop law is to require a business to spend a bunch of money on insurance that they can’t afford,” he said. “This benefits no one except the insurance companies.”
Carlson said he expects some opposition, including from business groups.
The Nebraska Restaurant Association has generally opposed dram shop laws, largely because of the difficulties in determining who did anything wrong, said Jim Partington, the group’s executive director. He couldn’t comment on where the association might stand on the issue this session because he’s not familiar with Carlson’s plans.
A dram shop law sounds like a good idea on paper, but it raises questions about how it would be enforced, said Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids.
“It takes the responsibility for their actions away from the drinker,” she said. “I also question whether such a law would actually reduce drunk driving.”
Convictions for driving under the influence topped 11,500 in 2008, according to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety. That’s up from about 6,200 a decade ago.
Some 67 alcohol-related fatal crashes were reported in 2008, down from 112 a decade ago, according to the office.
Highway Safety Administrator Fred Zwonechek said he believes that 2008 figure is a record low. He credits extra enforcement, higher rates of seat belt use and the efforts of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving that have helped raise awareness about the consequences of drinking and driving.