Nebraska legislative session ends, unfinished business abounds
LINCOLN, Neb. — After a whirlwind 60-days of Nebraska’s short legislative session, the unicameral is poised to adjourn on Wednesday, April 20. Here’s a recap of some of the key occurrences TSLN has followed since the legislature convened in early January.
LEGISLATURE REJECTS BRAND COMMITTEE APPOINTMENT
In a rare move, the Unicameral voted 35-0 on Tuesday, April 12, to reject a gubernatorial appointment to the Nebraska Brand Committee, following a unanimous 7-0 recommendation forwarded to the body by the agriculture committee on Feb. 28.
Terry Cone, a cattle feeder from Burwell, served as vice-chair of the brand committee’s five member board of directors. He was selected for reappointment by Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts after his term expired in August 2021.
An amendment to LB 572 introduced by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard and passed during the 2021 legislative session, now requires all appointments and reappointments to the Nebraska Brand Committee to undergo a confirmation hearing before the Unicameral’s ag committee.
Erdman’s amendment was motivated in-part by Ricketts’ March 2021 appointment of a North Platte-area cattle feeder who had previously been charged in 2019 with a felony brand law violation. While Ricketts’ nominee had pleaded no-contest to a lesser charge, they quickly withdrew their name after receiving backlash from Sandhills ranchers.
The feeder’s seat sat vacant until the August 2021 appointment of Duane Gangwish, an employee of Darr Feedlot in Cozad, whose appointment was days before the confirmation hearing requirement in LB 572 came into effect.
Cone’s hearing on Feb. 1 was the first trial of the confirmation requirement. He faced a hard line of questioning before the ag committee, with scrutiny especially paid to his November 2021 vote to keep meetings of the brand committee’s electronic inspection advisory group closed to the public and press. The committee later reversed its decision to exclude the public after receiving pushback from senators during an ag committee hearing on Dec. 9, 2021.
The increased public scrutiny of brand committee’s business has created concern in the legislature and led senators to send a clear message to the executive branch: find another nominee. And since it’s an election year, Ricketts could potentially pass the buck to his successor, rather than make a lame-duck appointment before leaving office.
Regardless of who fills Cone’s seat, the next nominee will be required to sit for a confirmation hearing during the 2023 legislative session.
EID BILLS STALL AND STUTTER
Two bills relating to use of electronic ID tags (EIDs) and electronic ownership inspection have stalled this year.
LB 1095, introduced by Ag Committee Chairman Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings has been indefinitely postponed in committee.
“The primary purpose of the bill is to provide that choice of animal ID requirements for purpose of disease traceability shall not be more limited than what is available for compliance with the federal disease traceability rule, 9 CFR 86, as such rule existed on January 1, 2020,” the bills statement of purpose reads. “The bill further provides that premise registration is voluntary and directs the Department to accommodate requests to withdraw a premise registration. In effect, LB 1095 would reinstate the purposes of former section 54-702 which was repealed by enactment of LB 344 in 2020.”
The bill would have restored voluntary individual animal ID options — including hot brands — which were repealed by LB 344. In the absence of LB 1095, Nebraska will be required to adopt mandatory electronic ID for disease traceability purposes on cattle moving interstate if the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) resurrects its 2019 mandate which was defeated by R-CALF USA.
Halloran’s bill was brought forward by Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, and was modeled after a similar bill which passed the Wyoming legislature in 2021. While it received positive supporting testimony from ICON members, the Nebraska Farmer’s Union, and a letter of written support from the Nebraska Farm Bureau during the bill’s committee hearing on Feb. 1, opponents from Nebraska Cattlemen and the Nebraska State Veterinarians Office effectively sunk any hopes for the bill advancing from committee this year. The recent bird flu scare across Nebraska has created another steep hill to climb for proponents of voluntary traceability options.
The second bill, LB 744, introduced by Sen. Erdman, would have repealed sections of LB 572 authorizing the Nebraska Brand Committee to adopt non-visual methods of verifying ownership and to create a program for electronic cattle ownership inspection.
Erdman initially introduced the bill after hearing constituent concerns about the brand committee’s intent to use a third-party blockchain vendor for its electronic inspection program. However, LB 744 initially sparked outrage among a subset of progressive Nebraska beef producers who bemoaned it as a step backward.
The brand committee had previously stated during meetings that a third-party database provider could potentially shield producer provided data from public records requests under the Nebraska Open Records Act. However, it was later determined by the committee’s legal counsel that a third-party database would provide little – if any – protection for producers.
After meeting with brand committee members to discuss the motivations behind the e-inspection program, Erdman subsequently amended his bill, striking his initial repeals and enshrining a legal safeguard for producer provided information.
“Any information that a person provides to the brand committee for the purpose of inspection is not a public record subject to disclosure under sections 84-712 to 84-712.09,” AM1932 reads.
While Erdman’s bill received zero opposition testimony and quickly advanced from the ag committee, there simply was not enough time in the session for the bill to be debated on the floor before adjournment.
It’s expected that the bill will be reintroduced during the 2023 session.
BRAND COMMITTEE WRAPS UP EID ADVISORY GROUP
The Nebraska Brand Committee’s producer-led EID advisory group met for its final meeting in Broken Bow on Friday, March 4. The input from the producers will be compiled into a report and delivered to the Nebraska Brand Committee for consideration and discussion at its June 2022 meeting.
Committee Member Duane Gangwish stressed that the rule-making process for electronic inspection will be slow and deliberate and may take as long as a year or more. Public hearings in compliance with the Nebraska Administrative Procedure Act are required under law before the committee can adopt non-visual methods of ownership ID. Gangwish also said that in some scenarios, e-inspection may not work for all types of producers. The brand committee also reserves the right send the report back to the advisory group and ask for more ideas and discussion.
And since the producer records protections provided under LB 744 have stalled, the committee could wait to move forward with the roll-out of a program until after the 2023 legislative session.
FEEDLOT LAWSUIT GOES TO BENCH TRIAL
Judge Travis O’Gorman heard arguments, evidence and testimony in Box Butte County District Court in Alliance on April 6 through 7 during a two-day bench trial regarding a civil lawsuit against the Nebraska Brand Committee filed by the state’s largest cattle feeder.
Broken Bow-based Adams Land and Cattle Company has sued the brand committee in a bid to maintain a more than decade-long sweetheart agreement it brokered with the committee to exempt cattle moving from backgrounding feedlots to its registered feedlots (RFL) from undergoing physical brand inspection so-long as Adams maintained proper evidence of ownership for those cattle.
Under the current Nebraska statutes governing the registered feedlot program, cattle purchased in a state with brand inspection are exempted from having to undergo re-inspection upon arrival at an RFL if they are moved directly from the point of origin (such as a salebarn) to the feedlot — so long as those cattle are accompanied by an original brand inspection document or brand clearance.
The Brand Committee argues that it did not have the authority to modify state statutes to grant Adams an exemption for indirect movements of cattle from background lots to the RFL.
Judge O’Gorman is expected to rule on the suit sometime within the next 30 days.
BILL TO HALT PERMANENT EASEMENTS DRAWS FLAK FROM CONSERVATION GROUPS
LB 1135, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Holdredge, would have limited the terms of conservation easements to no more than 99 years and give local elected officials greater authority to approve or deny future easements.
Nebraska is unique in that local county officials can deny conservation easements in the event that such easements conflict with the county’s comprehensive plans. The expanded authority under LB 1135 would have provided an avenue for greater local control and oversight. During a Feb. 11 hearing before the Unicameral’s Judiciary Committee the bill received positive testimony from county government officials and several farmers and ranchers, but pushback from conservation groups.
Tanya Storer, Cherry County commissioner, spoke in favor of the bill. While it’s true that a conservation easement would protect family farms and ranches for the first generation, Storer said, the second generation [landowner] would not be eligible for any financial benefit for their conservation practices.
“Perpetual conservation easements create a negative servitude which places the holder of the deeded property in a subservient position to the easement holder,” Storer said. “Perpetuity says to our youth, ‘we don’t trust you.’ It takes the freedom and the decision-making away from the living and it buries it with the dead.”
A host of attorneys and conservation activists effectively snowballed the hearing.
Kimberly Stuhr spoke in opposition to the bill on behalf of Friends of the Niobrara. Thirty-three thousand people floated on the Niobrara River last year, she said, and ranch families who want to [maintain their easement] while choosing to voluntarily safeguard the health of the river should be allowed to do so.
“Perpetual conservation and agricultural easements are truly the only way to protect unique and beautiful resources like the Niobrara [river],” Stuhr said. “In many ways, you could say that they would protect the history and legacy of the state.”
‘STOP 30×30 SUMMIT SET FOR EARTH DAY
American Stewards of Liberty has selected Lincoln, Nebraska, and Earth Day (April 22, 2022) as the place and time for its “Stop 30×30 Summit.” American Stewards selected Earth Day to send the clear message that America’s landowners would not be “voluntarily” surrendering their property rights to the environmental agenda.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts led a letter signed by 15 Governors opposing 30×30 last year, and has continued to actively oppose the agenda, protecting Nebraskans from the federal overreach, setting Nebraska as one of the first states to oppose the Biden administration’s radical agenda to place 30 percent of all U.S. land and coastal waters into permanent conservation by the year 2030.
The objective of the Summit is to connect America’s working landowners with the policy makers in position to stop the land grab, to advocate effective solutions, and to strengthen the movement that has emerged to stop Biden’s agenda. Participants will leave with new resources, educational tools and purpose to protect their community and help advance the national effort to stop 30×30.
“This is the most important conference we have ever organized,” Margaret Byfield, Executive Director of American Stewards of Liberty, said in a press release. “We are bringing together national experts, policy makers from every level of government, and landowners on the frontlines of this battle to launch the next phase of the ‘Stop 30×30’ campaign. We need every American who sees this agenda as the federal land grab that it is to be there to help us protect our land and our liberty.”
Personal invitations to the summit have been sent to County Commissioners and local elected officials across Nebraska in an aim to educate and make officials aware of the potential threats 30×30 poses to their local communities.
For more information, visit https://stop30x30.americanstewards.us/summit
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