LINCOLN — A Kimball, Neb., woman is willing to serve piña coladas without rum at her new island-themed restaurant rather than comply with a little-known state requirement to be a registered voter to hold a liquor license.
Veronica Brown, who is applying for a liquor license, said she was stunned to learn about the requirement. But she said that voting is adverse to her beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness and that registering to vote and then not voting would be hypocritical.
“We give our allegiance and support to God's wisdom,” Brown said. “Basically, I feel I've already voted. It's just something that's higher and better.”
Jehovah's Witnesses also don't believe in serving in the military, saluting the American flag or serving in public office.
The conflict will go before the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission on Thursday.
Hobe Rupe, the commission's executive director, said it's the first time he can remember such a religious twist confronting the three-member board.
Rupe said the voter-registration requirement was adopted as a means of determining whether a liquor license applicant was a bona fide Nebraska resident.
Such residency requirements harken back to pre-Prohibition days, he said, when out-of-state breweries owned many saloons. Nebraska liquor rules now require at least a manager to be a state resident.
“The theory is, if you're a resident of the area, you're going to sell alcohol in a more responsible manner,” Rupe said. “It's also a fail-safe check on felons — you can't have any felonies to vote.”
Convicted felons can't hold a liquor license in Nebraska.
Using the voter rule isn't a fail-safe backstop, though. Since 2008, felons in Nebraska have been able to restore their voting rights two years after completing their sentence.
The requirement has left Brown wondering whether her cafe — her first foray into running a restaurant — will be able to survive in the Panhandle town of 2,500 if she can't get a liquor license.
“As you know, alcohol is a big moneymaker,” she said.
“Whatever. I'm going to do smoothies instead,” she said, adding, “It won't be the same.”
Jehovah's Witnesses are allowed to consume alcohol, but in moderation, she said, which might translate into a drink limit if she does obtain a liquor license.
She said wanted to offer some rum drinks, as well as beer and wine, at Peyton's Island Time, which is set to open next month. Brown said her family regularly vacations in the Caribbean, thus the theme.
“The islands are where we'd like to live,” she said.
Brown said it never dawned on her that being a registered voter would be a requirement for a liquor license.
Iowa, for instance, doesn't have a voter registration requirement, though it mandates that at least one of the owners of a business serving alcohol be an Iowa resident.
Nebraska's rules include more than the voter registration hurdle to qualify for a liquor license: If you own any vehicles, for example, at least one must be registered in Nebraska.
And applicants must fulfill at least two of the following requirements: own or rent property in the state, have a Nebraska mailing address, “actually reside” in the state, or use a Nebraska address on tax returns.
Brown, whose family owns rental property in Kimball, is asking the state liquor board to waive the voter requirement. She has submitted a letter from a church elder to back up her stance on the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Rupe, the state official, said he expects that the board will grant a waiver, based on other proof that Brown is a Nebraska resident.
Brown said she isn't as confident.
“I guess I've entered into some kind of controversy,” she said. “I thought this was a sure thing.”
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