Session Review: Natural Resources

Ensuring the continued viability of the state’s natural resources was the primary focus of legislation heard by the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee.

Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz introduced LB329, passed 46-0, which will absolve any landowner who allows visitors on their land to participate in agritourism activities of liability for injury or death of a visitor resulting from inherent risk. Visitors must be warned of potential dangers by a sign or in a contract by any owner that charges a fee for visitors to participate.

Agritourism activities can include hunting, fishing, horseback riding, camping, birding, farm, ranch and vineyard tours, harvest-your-own activities, boating and other water sports.

The bill defines inherent risk as any condition, danger or hazard that is an integral part of land or water used for agritourism, including:
• surface and subsurface conditions and natural conditions of land, vegetation and waters;
• the behavior of wild or domestic animals;
• the ordinary dangers of structures or equipment ordinarily used in farming or ranching when such structures or equipment are used for farming or ranching purposes; and
• the potential of a participant to act in a negligent way that may contribute to injury of the participant or others.

Inherent risk does not include any act or omission of information that occurs while a person is under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, or any other illegal activity or action.

Liability is not limited for any owner who knows of potential dangers and takes no action to correct those issues. Owners are liable for any actions that constitute intentional or willful gross negligence.

LB581, introduced by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, enables the owner of a qualifying clean fuel-burning vehicle to apply for a tax rebate if the applicant has not claimed another rebate or incentive for the same vehicle.

The bill defines qualified clean-burning motor vehicle fuel as hydrogen fuel cell, compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas or gasoline containing at least 15 percent ethanol.

An applicant who has installed conversion equipment in their vehicle can receive the lesser amount of $4,500 or 50 percent of the cost of conversion.

A rebate of $2,500 or 50 percent of the cost of conversion also is available for property that is directly related to the compression and delivery of natural gas from a private home or residence for noncommercial purposes into a fuel tank of a motor vehicle propelled by natural gas.

The bill passed on a 41-4 vote.

Papillion Sen. Jim Smith introduced LB469, adopted 43-1, which directs the State Energy Office to assess any state energy plan before submitting the plan to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for review.

The energy office will prepare a report analyzing the proposed state energy plan’s effects on employment within the state and the electric power sector, including the potential impact on the:
• type and amount of electric generating capacity that is likely to retire or switch to another fuel;
• stranded investment in electric generating capacity;
• amount of investment necessary to offset the retirement of electric generating capacity;
• potential risks to electric reliability; and
• amount by which retail electricity prices are forecast to increase or decrease.

The bill includes provisions of LB583, originally introduced by Schilz, specifying the areas of analysis for a state energy plan to be developed by the State Energy Office. The plan will focus on strategies to develop a cost-competitive energy supply, access to affordable energy, sustainable economic growth and job creation.

Municipalities will be required to obtain a permit to discharge pollutants under a bill passed this session.

Under LB413, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, the state Department of Environmental Quality is authorized to consider individual circumstances when issuing permits to any political subdivision seeking to discharge pollutants from a point source into any body of water in the state.

The political subdivision can request an evaluation to determine how best to meet federal requirements in a sustainable way. The department will evaluate several factors, including:
• the capability of the political subdivision to raise and secure necessary funding;
• affordability to ratepayers;
• growth potential of the political subdivision;
• efficacy of existing infrastructure for projected needs;
• overall costs and environmental benefits;
• environmental improvements made by the political subdivision; and
• other relevant economic and social concerns or environmental conditions.

The bill passed on a 45-0 vote.

Schilz also introduced LB142, adopted 46-1, which creates the Nebraska Aquatic Invasive Species Program to prevent and mitigate the damage caused by species such as the zebra mussel and silver carp.

The bill imposes a fee every three years on motorboat registrations, both new and renewal, of between $5 and $10. The collected fees will be used to:
• monitor and sample waters for aquatic invasive species;
• hire personnel;
• purchase equipment to inspect and decontaminate water;
• provide additional enforcement, education and research relating to aquatic invasive species; and
• conduct aquatic invasive species projects as needed.

Owners of motorboats registered outside Nebraska will be required to purchase an annual aquatic invasive species stamp costing between $10 and $15. These fees will be remitted to the state Game Fund.

Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen introduced LB164, passed 44-0, which allows natural resource districts to adopt a biennial budget instead of the default annual budget currently allowed under statute.

Other measures

LB512, introduced by Gering Sen. John Stinner, would authorize the state Oil and Gas Commission to monitor and regulate the disposal of wastewater generated from oil and gas well production, including wastewater generated from production in other states, that is injected into commercial salt water injection wells in Nebraska.

An assessment of 20 cents per barrel would be levied on commercial wells used for wastewater disposal imported to Nebraska from neighboring oil and gas production facilities. The collected revenue would be allocated for the monitoring and regulating of oil and gas wastewater disposal.

Bellevue Sen. Tommy Garrett introduced two measures that would provide reduced-fee hunting permits to retired and active duty military.

LB634 would allow a resident veteran who was a prisoner of war to obtain a combination fishing and hunting permit, habitat stamp, aquatic habitat stamp and Nebraska migratory waterfowl stamp for a one-time fee of $5, instead of the normal $64 fee.

Currently, Nebraska residents who are 64 and older are eligible to receive the combination permit and stamps for $5.

LB637 would allow any military member stationed in Nebraska for at least 30 days to obtain any permit at the resident fee level. The current fee for a nonresident combination hunting and fishing permit is $120. Under LB637, a military member could purchase the permit for $29.

All three bills remain in committee.

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