Nebraska Policymakers Overturn State Supreme Court Ruling on Alcopops

AlcopopsLast month the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that flavored malt beverages, also known as alcopops, are distilled spirits and should be classified and taxed as such, instead of the beer tax rate the state has been using. The ruling meant 12 times more alcopops tax revenue for the budget-beleaguered state, and less access to alcopops for youth, whom producers target with these products.

A ruling like that should have policymakers celebrating, wouldn’t you think? After all, their responsibility is to serve the health and welfare of the public they represent, along with keeping a balanced budget for the state. Or is it? Just one month after the ruling, state legislators effectively overturned the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision with LB 824. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman approved the legislation April 6. The new law keeps the status quo intact: taxing alcopops at the beer rate and keeping the products available wherever beer is sold.
LB 824 is also a slap in the face to public health advocates who have been fighting for more sensible regulation of these dangerous products for years. Diane Riibe, Executive Director of the nonprofit Project Extra Mile, said of the bill: "In a day where our state is facing a budget shortfall in the millions, giving any industry a tax break seems most unwise, especially when that tax break is on a product that harms our children. The Legislature voted to protect business interests over kids. It's an extremely sad day for our children. We hope for a day when our policy makers are ready to have a real and valid conversation about the public health of ourchildren."
It's no surprise to see certain legislators going out of their way to please the powerful alcohol industry lobby at the expense of the communities they are supposed to represent. However, we don't often see a legislature deliberately override the state supreme court in order to make alcohol companies happy. Welcome to the Doghouse, Nebraska Legislature and Governor Heineman.