Session Review: Agriculture

Members of the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee considered a variety of issues this session including commercial pet breeding, competitive livestock marketing restrictions and dry beans.

Introduced by Wahoo Senator Jerry Johnson, LB360 clarifies the authority of the state Department of Agriculture to assist local authorities in investigating possible cases of animal cruelty observed in licensed facilities. Such authority will be triggered when conditions presenting a “significant threat” to the health or safety of dogs or cats is present. Significant threats to the health or safety of dogs or cats include:
• not providing shelter or protection from extreme weather;
• refusing to seek treatment for acute injuries involving potentially life-threatening, hemorrhaging or medical emergencies;
• not providing food or water resulting in starvation or severe dehydration;
• egregious abuse resulting in trauma from beating, torturing, mutilating or burning; or
• failing to maintain sanitation standards that result in animals walking, lying or standing in feces.

The bill also provides that licenses do not expire and converts the current annual license renewal fee, a graduated fee based on size, to an annual fee.

It also incorporates provisions of three other bills, including:
• LB359, introduced by Johnson, which increases a fee collected with local pet licenses from $1 to $1.25 per licensed animal, increases the annual license fee for each size category of licensed facility by $25 and adds a fee of $2 per animal for commercial license categories, to be remitted to the Commercial Dog and Cat Operator Inspection Program Cash Fund;
• LB389, originally introduced by Heartwell Sen. John Kuehn, which implements a re-inspection fee of $150, plus mileage charges necessary to complete the re-inspection; and
• LB377, originally introduced by Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman, which establishes a judicial procedure available to local authorities to more efficiently determine the disposition of animals impounded in cases of alleged neglect or abuse.

The bill passed on a 48-0 vote.

The committee also considered legislation that would promote livestock production in the state.

Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz introduced LB176, which would narrow an existing restriction under the Competitive Livestock Markets Act that prohibits livestock packers from directly or indirectly owning or feeding livestock. Under the bill, that restriction would apply only to cattle producers.

A swine processor or packer could enter into a written agreement with a person who owns, leases or holds a legal interest in the livestock operation. The packer would own the swine, while the individual producer would retain ownership of the facilities and land.

Schilz filed a motion to invoke cloture—or cease debate and take an immediate vote on the bill—on select file. The motion failed 31-11. Thirty-three votes were needed.

LB176 remains on select file.

The Legislature authorized the state Department of Agriculture to award grants to counties designated as livestock friendly. LB175, introduced by Schilz, allows grants to be awarded for strategic planning and improvements to public infrastructure. Grants for strategic planning projects are limited to $15,000 each. Grants for infrastructure projects are limited to one half of the unobligated balance of the fund, or $200,000, whichever is less.

The bill also increases the amount of individual producers’ investment in livestock modernization improvements eligible for tax credits under the Nebraska Rural Advantage Act and increases from $30,000 to $150,000 the maximum individual tax credit allowed for applications filed after Jan. 1, 2016. The total available tax credits for approved projects will be $500,000 in 2016, $750,000 in 2017 and 2018 and $1 million for 2019 and each year thereafter.

Provisions of LB544, introduced by Omaha Sen. Burke Harr, were incorporated into LB175. The provisions amended the Nebraska Seed Law by defining the term “seed library” and exempting seed libraries from certain packaging, labeling and content verification standards that apply to commercial seed.

The additions also permit state agencies or municipalities to use as community gardens vacant public land for which they have title. The state director of agriculture is required to establish a community gardens task force by August 2015 to study, evaluate and make recommendations for establishing and expanding community gardens, donating food from the gardens and increasing benefits of the gardens to their respective communities.

The bill passed on a 47-0 vote.

Hyannis Sen. Al Davis introduced LB85, adopted 44-0, which authorizes the Nebraska Brand Committee to charge as much as $1.10 per head for cattle brand inspections. Currently, the fee is capped at 75 cents per head.

The brand committee inspects cattle and investigates missing and stolen cattle in Nebraska. The organization is funded solely through the collection of fees for those services.

Lawmakers also considered legislation that narrows the types of losses that have recourse to the security provided by grain dealers as a requirement to do business in the state.

Johnson introduced LB183, adopted 48-0, which limits the dealer security to cover payment only to growers who sell directly to dealers. The bill prevents owners who are not growers from claiming past due payments and corrects an unintended ambiguity in the law that has allowed grain purchasers to file claims stemming from dealers’ failure to deliver, thereby diluting the protection intended for growers doing business with a dealer.

The bill also shortens from 30 to 15 days the time a grower may demand payment from the dealer, attempt payment negotiations with the dealer or notify the Public Service Commission of an apparent loss.

Grain transportation vehicles no longer are required to be registered and issued grain dealer plates. Further, accountants or accounting firms preparing statements for grain dealership license applicants now may be located in any state.

Other bills

LB242, introduced by Gering Sen. John Stinner, increases the current dry bean checkoff rate from 10 cents per 100 pounds of beans to 15 cents beginning Aug. 1, 2015. It also authorizes the Dry Bean Commission to adjust the checkoff to a maximum of 24 cents.

The bill repeals current statute allowing dry bean producers to apply for a refund of their checkoff paid within 30 days of the sale of dry beans. It also adjusts the amount of money that can be used for lobbying, from 25 to 15 percent of revenue.

The bill passed on a 42-1 vote.

Finally, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers introduced LB128, which would repeal the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Management Act. The act, first passed by the Legislature in 2012, authorizes counties to develop management programs to help control prairie dog populations.

Senators advanced the bill to final reading, where it remains.

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