Session Review: Agriculture

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/agr' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of the Agriculture Committee'>Agriculture Committee</a> chairperson <a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist16' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Lydia Brasch'>Sen. Lydia Brasch</a>
Agriculture Committee chairperson Sen. Lydia Brasch

The Agriculture Committee considered bills this session that would have expanded industrial hemp research and authorized Nebraskans to sell cottage foods from their homes.

A bill that would have repealed the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Management Act was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The act, which was passed by the Legislature in 2012, authorizes county boards to adopt and carry out coordinated management programs to control black-tailed prairie dog colonies on property within the county. LB449, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, would have repealed the act.

The law requires a landowner in counties that have adopted a management plan to effectively manage prairie dog colonies on his or her property to prevent them from expanding to adjacent property if the neighboring property owner objects to the expansion. If such unwanted expansion occurs, the county board issues a notice to the landowner to take control measures.

If a landowner does not provide evidence that a colony is being managed within 60 days of the notice, the county may enter upon the property to manage the prairie dogs. A landowner may request a hearing to challenge whether an unmanaged colony exists or the costs of control measures charged to the landowner.

The landowner is responsible for any expenses, and unpaid assessments become a lien on the property. Landowners who do not comply also could receive a fine of up to $1,500. The law allows a county to file a foreclosure suit to recover the debt.

Lawmakers voted 26-13 to pass the bill April 18, the final day of the 2018 session.

Chambers has said the act violates property owners’ rights by allowing government agents to come onto their land without notice when a neighbor makes an unverified complaint about prairie dogs on the property.

In his veto message, Ricketts said that repealing the act would fail to protect the property rights of landowners who are harmed by the spread of prairie dogs from a neighbor’s property. He said the law provides an incentive for landowners to manage prairie dogs on their property and that counties have used it “judiciously.”

The committee did not advance LB1133, introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne. It would have required the state Department of Agriculture to establish and oversee a five-year industrial hemp research program comprising the planting, cultivation, testing and analysis of industrial hemp demonstration plots by growers who are licensed by the department.

The department also would have been responsible for obtaining any federal permits or waivers necessary to grow industrial hemp in Nebraska and would have promoted the research and development of industrial hemp as well as commercial markets for it.

Also not advanced from committee was LB764, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford.

Current law provides an exemption to the Nebraska Pure Food Act that allows for the sale of foods such as baked goods, fruits, vegetables and herbs prepared in private homes to be sold directly to a consumer at a farmers’ market if the consumer is informed by a sign at the sale location that the food was prepared in a kitchen that is not subject to regulation and inspection.

LB764 would have expanded that exemption to additional types of direct consumer sales.

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