LINCOLN — After taking testimony Thursday from Tom Osborne as well as people who lost loved ones at the hands of drunken drivers, a state senator pledged to get tougher on bartenders serve impaired customers.
But Osborne and the others wanted more.
Osborne spoke in favor of a bill that would make bars and taverns liable for drunken patrons who later cause accidents.
Such “dram shop” laws have been adopted in 43 states, said Osborne, athletic director at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I find it odd and rather embarrassing that we’re among the 14 percent of states that don’t have this,” he said.
Osborne, an anti-alcohol advocate, has sought passage of a dram shop law the past two years.
He said his help was sought by the family of Joe Cowan, a Council Bluffs man who died after his vehicle was struck head-on by a drunken driver just north of Omaha two years ago.
The driver who struck Cowan had spent most of the afternoon consuming vodka drinks at an Omaha bar.
Osborne said adopting a dram shop law could save an estimated six lives a year by making bartenders and servers more responsible for shutting off patrons who become drunk.
But as in past years, bar owners and restaurant owners testified against Legislative Bill 693.
They said Nebraska already has a law that penalizes bars that serve intoxicated customers and that the expense of buying additional liability insurance could cause layoffs or close some taverns.
They said the bill placed an unreasonable standard on bar owners because not only would they be responsible for visibly intoxicated patrons, but also patrons they “should have known’’ would become intoxicated.
Dram shop laws, they said, shift liability from the people who become drunk to bar owners who have “deeper pockets.”
They also called for requiring all alcohol servers to undergo training to better identify when someone is intoxicated and should be shut off.
That offer angered State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who said better training was an idea that was often suggested but quickly dropped.
Lathrop said that unless bar owners and others get behind an enhanced server training proposal, he would push for passage of a dram shop law.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, sponsor of the dram shop bill, said he was encouraged by Lathrop’s pledge. Carlson said he would oppose dropping liability requirements for alcohol servers in the measure.
No action was taken on the bill, but Carlson said he was more hopeful about its prospects than last year.
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