IB Member Wins ‘Alcopops’ Case in Nebraska Supreme Court

In a landmark decision, Nebraska’s highest court made history earlier this month with a ruling that confirmed “alcopops” as distilled spirits. Injury Board Member Vince Powers represented Project Extra Mile, a group that fights against underage drinking, and other plantiffs in the case.

Its order affirms an earlier February 2011 ruling by the Lancaster County District Court. With this ruling, the Supreme Court confirmed that alcopops – those fruity, sweet tasting drinks with strong youth appeal that taste like soda but are full of hard liquor – are liquor in the state of Nebraska.

“Justice came for Nebraska’s children and taxpayers,” said Diane Riibe, executive director of Project Extra Mile. “We want to give a heartfelt thank you to so many courageous people in this state who stood in the face of tremendous power and didn’t back down.

“Our gratitude for the work of our attorney, Vince Powers, is immeasurable,” continued Riibe. “He was invested, committed and undeterred, walking side-by-side with us as a small, pitiful rag-tag army up against a very powerful industry.”

The ruling stated that the Liquor Control Commission exceeded its statutory authority by giving the alcohol industry a pass on paying taxes rightfully owed to the taxpayers of Nebraska. Since this fight began nearly 10 years ago, almost $20 million in taxes have gone unpaid.

“The ruling means the out-of-state companies will have to start paying their fair share of taxes like everyone else,” Powers told The Omaha World-Herald. The ruling also is significant because it strengthens citizens’ ability to go to court to challenge government actions, he said.

Days after the district court’s ruling, Attorney General Jon Bruning appealed the case with the Supreme Court and later, Diageo’s, the leading spirits producer in the world, filed an amicus brief joining the attorney general in his appeal.

Alcopops are the drink of today’s youth, especially females. This price inequity has contributed to a devastating problem in Nebraska, where more than 26 percent of all the alcohol sold is consumed by those under the legal drinking age. Because of this ruling, these products will cost more, and price sensitive young people will have less access to them.

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