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Alcohol continues to be front, center in public discourse
Nearly 80 years after the repeal of Prohibition in the United States, alcohol problems continue to be front and center in the news.
In Lincoln, Nebraska legislators advanced a bill redefining "alcopops" like hard cider as "beer" for the purpose of taxation.
The proposal was in response to a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that sweetened malt beverages should be taxed as hard liquor, at the rate of $3.75 a gallon, instead of as beer, at the rate of 31 cents.
Activists lauded the court ruling, saying the fruity alcoholic drinks are a "gateway" drink that draws young people, particularly young girls, into a drinking habit.
Opponents of the bill say manufacturers are greedy, and began selling "alcopops" because beer sales were down. "If you have a very sweet and flavorful drink, it makes it easier to start drinking," State Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial said.
Supporters of the change, like State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, say the higher tax would not affect underage drinking and the drinks are not really targeted to teens.
There's no question about the target for other Nebraska alcohol sales, however, Whiteclay, population 11, where nearly 180,000 cases of beer and malt liquor were sold last year.
That was down from 206,600 the year before, however.
All that beer -- the equivalent of 4.3 million 12-ounce cans -- went across the boarder a few hundred feet north into the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol has been banned almost continually since the late 1800s.
Whether the cause or a symptom, all that alcohol has contributed to the misery on the reservation, which has an 80 percent unemployment rate, where one in four children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and where the average life expectancy, between 45 and 52 years, is the shortest of anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, with the exception of Haiti.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe, which runs the reservation, is seeking $500 million from the four White Clay beer stores, their distributors and the international brewing companies that serves them.
It's a good time to keep all those problems in mind, with St. Patrick's Day falling on Saturday, basketball fans ready to watch the NCAA tournament, and this weekend having the potential to be a time of widespread binge drinking for those so inclined.
MADD Nebraska is urging revelers -- whether they are going out or having a St. Patty's celebration at home, to designate a sober driver before the party begins.
The Nebraska State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies will be out in force to make sure the roads are safe.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 47 people killed in traffic crashes in 2009 that involved at least one driver or motorcyclist with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher on St. Patrick's Day.
We join MADD Nebraska and other organizations and agencies in urging everyone to enjoy the holiday safely, plan ahead on celebrations and, if you see an impaired driver on the road, don't hesitate to call local law enforcement.
Alcohol is a fact of life, whether used responsibly with friends or abused by underage drinkers or down-and-out alcoholics. Only careful, responsible personal control can keep it from making you an unfortunate part of the next day's news.