Nebraska Brand Committee to begin issuing citations for brand law violations on Nov. 1
ALLIANCE, Neb. — Starting Nov. 1, 2021, cattle producers in Nebraska’s brand inspection area can expect to be issued waiverable citations with fines of up to $200/hd if they decide to sell cattle or move cattle across brand inspection lines without first having those cattle inspected for brands. The new waiverable citations are one of the final legs of LB 572, which the Nebraska Brand Committee has been tasked by the legislature to implement in 2021. The bill, passed by the Unicameral during the Spring 2021 legislative session, contains a number of overhauls to the brand’s fee structure and gives authority that provides committee investigators “teeth” when it comes to both enforcing existing brand laws and arbitrating proof-of-ownership disputes.
“Waivable citations are much like traffic tickets in that you can opt to pay the fine and waive a court date,” the brand committee said in a press release. “If you believe the citation was given erroneously, the complainant has the right to appear in the county court where the violation was issued.”
Prior to LB 572’s passing, brand investigators would normally have to forward misdemeanor brand law violations to the county prosecutor in the respective county where a violation occurred. However, some county attorneys failed to follow up and press charges due to an overflow of more significant criminal cases on their dockets.
According to the brand committee press release, “citations will be used for several situations including sale, slaughter or disposal of a live animal or carcass without inspections; transportation of live animals without proper documentation inside the brand area; or movement of livestock outside the brand area without inspection.”
Rank-and-file brand inspectors who observe infractions can forward those violations on to the area brand investigator, which allows the investigator the opportunity to contact a producer and do their research before issuing a citation.
Nebraska’s brand inspectors and investigators have confidentially complained for years that previous state statutes made them over-reliant on county attorney offices in order to punish repeat misdemeanor offenders.
Imagine, for a moment, you’re a Nebraska Brand Inspector. You’ve been called out to a local ranch to inspect 150 head of steers that are destined for finishing at a feedlot east of the inspection area. The rancher requesting the inspection has asked you to be there at 8 a.m. sharp on a Saturday to check brands so that any strays you identify can be sorted off and kicked out before the trucks are loaded. Realistically, it’s been a long, dry summer, and that rancher’s neighbors haven’t exactly been the most diligent when it comes to checking their fences. The neighbors might have a few steers that may or may not have crawled through the wire and are now commingled with the rancher’s steers. We all know it happens; it has given birth to the time honored expression: “Trust your neighbor, but brand your cattle.” Again, in this hypothetical situation, the brand inspector has agreed to show up at 8:00 a.m. sharp. But let’s say that your rancher has hired the “handy help,” who gathered and corralled all 150 steers by 7:00 a.m. The rancher has truck drivers waiting who are antsy and impatient to get loaded and on the road heading east. So the rancher caves to pressure. He takes the risk. The rancher agrees to load and dispatches out the trucks. If the brand man shows up and scolds him for not being patient and waiting for an inspection, what’s the worst that will happen? Prior to the waiverable citations, the rancher might be willing to take that gamble. He might know that his local county attorney’s office is so swamped with criminal methamphetamine cases that they won’t bother to go after and prosecute him on a few obscure misdemeanor brand law violations.
But now, he might think twice. $200/hd is a pretty steep fee, especially when doing the right thing (being patient and waiting for the brand inspector) now only costs you $0.85/hd.
Here’s another real-world example. You’re a younger operator who has leased a place in the spring and bought some heifers from your landlord. You’ve bought the heifers and applied your brand to them, but you — for whatever reason — decided not to call the brand man to conduct a change-of-ownership brand inspection as is required by law.
You’ve, instead, worked out an informal agreement with your landlord. When it comes time to preg-check, the landlord will retain the open heifers and sell them at the local salebarn. You both handshake on the deal and it all goes along dandy. Until the fall comes. After preg-checking, the landlord loads up the open heifers and takes them to the salebarn, just like you had agreed. But instead of those open head being “out of sight, out of mind,” you get a voicemail from the salebarn brand inspector.
Your landlord is trying to sell open heifers that have both your brand and the landlord’s brand applied to the hide. The brand committee has no records of any change of ownership, and neither you or your landlord have the necessary inspection paperwork to definitively prove who exactly has the title and ownership of those heifers.
In most instances, that kind of slip-up might be a slap on the wrist or a stern talking-to, but here’s the incentive — especially for the younger, aspirational cattleman; failing to follow the laws could cost you your pride and reputation. Again, those costs can easily be avoided. If $0.85/hd is breaking you, your operation likely has bigger issues.
CHIEF INVESTIGATOR TO RETIRE
Integrity is pretty eloquently defined by the United States Marine Corps.
“It’s doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.”
There’s no doubt that the Nebraska Brand Committee’s outgoing Chief Investigator, Dave Horton, heard something similar to that definition when he was a young Marine Private. And there’s no doubt that Horton carried that spirit of integrity with him through his 35 plus years of service to Nebraska’s cattle producers. Horton has decided he will hang up his badge, and there will be a retirement party for him on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at Newberry’s, 104 W 4th St. in Alliance from 10 a.m. to 2 pm. But the spirit of integrity that Horton has carried with him through his service to Nebraska’s cattle industry lives on in the agency. Ultimately, the job of the Nebraska Brand Committee is a simple but necessary one. As an institution, the Brand Committee has a fundamental role in securing the integrity of the cattle business in Nebraska — a business that is hands-down our state’s largest economic driver. The brand committee’s inspectors and investigators exist as that final safeguard for our industry. In short, they, “keep honest people honest.”
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