In Nebraska, cocktails to-go are here to stay

In Nebraska, cocktails to-go are here to stay

The hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading many states including Nebraska to allow restaurants and bars to sell cocktails and/or spirits to-go to generate more revenue.

Today, state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill making that temporary regulatory relief measure a permanent policy in Nebraska, along with a suite of changes that enable adult beverage businesses to compete and grow in Nebraska.

LB72, a bill allowing the sale of “cocktails to-go” on a permanent basis, was introduced by Sen. Suzanne Geist. LB72 was amended after its introduction to include farm wineries, in addition to restaurants and bars.

The content of the bill was one of a group of measures amended into LB274, which became one of the priority bills of the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee this session. Omnibus bills of this type are often known in the Unicameral as “Christmas Tree” bills, and in this case, Christmas came early for Nebraska adult beverage businesses and their customers.

The package’s main bill, LB274, creates a promotional farmers market designated license for alcoholic beverages. The bill is designed for Nebraska’s farm wineries, craft brewers, and micro-distilleries. It will greatly benefit entrepreneurs in these industries by allowing them to promote their product where people are—places like farmers markets—and the Platte Institute provided a position letter in support of this bill.

Another bill in the package, LB578, was also supported through a Platte Institute position letter. LB578 creates a new statutory category of alcoholic beverage, the ready-to-drink cocktail. Prior to the passage of LB578, Nebraska taxed these as distilled spirits, at a rate of $3.75 per gallon. Under LB578, they will be taxed at ninety-five cents ($0.95) per gallon, making Nebraska more competitive in this market. This tax change will ultimately benefit consumers by lowering the final purchase price, which could lead to an increase in sales and demand. Should this occur, Nebraska craft distillers would potentially be able to grow and expand their businesses.

This package of bills throws a needed lifeline to small, local businesses and their employees struggling to survive COVID-19’s economic burdens. Restaurants, bars, and the many craft breweries, micro-distilleries, and farm wineries provide needed jobs in our communities and bring vitality to business districts and Main Streets across our state.

Of note, the bill has an emergency clause, which means it will take effect immediately after it is signed by the governor.

More than 30 states plus the District of Columbia currently have measures in place allowing restaurants and/or bars to sell cocktails to-go, and many are looking to allow this on an extended or permanent basis like Nebraska.

Iowa and Ohio passed permanency legislation in 2020. So far this year, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have all made cocktails to-go measures prompted by COVID permanent.

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