In Nebraska, ‘Right to Farm’ amendment put on hold

Letters to the Editor

As we move into the final few weeks of the 2016 legislative session, we are focused on priority legislation. The state budget bills passed on Thursday and were sent on to Governor Ricketts for his approval.

The so-called “Right to Farm” constitutional amendment is among the priority bills under consideration. Debate on LR378CA began on Wednesday afternoon. This measure is supposedly intended to give constitutional protection to farming and ranching practices.

Initially, I thought this sounded like a positive idea. It was only after the Agriculture Committee public hearings that I began to have serious doubts about the measure. The committee voted once and didn’t advance the bill. The committee then met again and a second vote garnered the majority needed to advance the bill to general file.

North Dakota was the first state to adopt a similar constitutional amendment in 2012. Missouri followed in 2014. Oklahoma voters will have a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment this November.

We simply don’t know enough about how the constitutional amendments in these states will work or are working. Nebraska shouldn’t leap into this issue without additional study, an understanding of the potential effects of the amendment on the ability of future Nebraska Legislatures to respond to the needs of its citizens, and whether the protections are truly needed in our state.

We must be careful to make sure the language does what we want it to do to avoid unintended consequences when amending the Nebraska Constitution. I’ve heard from many farmers and ranchers in my legislative district. There’s a strong divide among those in agriculture about the actual need for constitutional protections and whether the language in LR378CA is too vague.

As my constituents wrote: “Right to Farm isn’t what real farmers and ranchers are talking about. We are much more worried about our growing property tax bills on our farm land. If the Legislature wants to help Nebraska farm and ranch families, doing something about the property tax burden is far and away the best thing you could do.”

As senators, we want to look out for the best interests of agriculture because it is the number one industry in our state. I am not convinced that this constitutional amendment is in the best interests of farmers and ranchers. I removed my name as a co-sponsor before debate began.

In a surprise move just prior to resuming debate on LR378CA Thursday, Sen. John Kuehn, the measure’s sponsor, filed a unanimous consent motion to bracket the measure until April 20. The bracket motion was accepted. The Agriculture Committee will study the issue during the interim. Perhaps a similar measure will be introduced in 2017, but the measure is dead for this session.