Nebraska’s proposed Right to Farm bill raises wording questions
North Dakota’s right to farm states:
“The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices.”
North Dakota led the way in 2012. Now Nebraska legislators are working to become one of the next “Right to Farm” states.
The Agriculture Committee for the state of Nebraska had a committee hearing Feb. 23 to discuss a proposed constitutional change, which will be on the November ballot if it gets the legislative support it needs. The state of Oklahoma is in the process of proposing a similar amendment to its constitution this year as well.
The proposed change would give farmers and ranchers constitutional protection by preventing the legislature from passing laws that will directly affect farmers and ranchers unless there is a compelling state interest.
The idea behind right to farm status was supported, but for this change and this ballot initiative, there was hesitation.
Part of the problem with the bill is the language, said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. It’s too broad and doesn’t focus on one factor that’s integral to Nebraska’s agriculture: families.
“This effort isn’t about helping family farmers,” Hansen said.
Hansen said the amendment will do more to help larger farming businesses, protecting larger farms and ranches, but small, family-owned farms won’t be well protected.
State Senator John Kuehn of Heartwell said there shouldn’t be concerns about the language since the original proposed amendment is similar to that of North Dakota’s and Missouri’s, the second state to pass Right to Farm legislation. In fact, The original wording for Nebraska’s proposed change is seven words longer than North Dakota and Missouri’s Right to Farm sections combined.
But Hansen’s concern about lack of clarity isn’t the only reason some are opposed.
Bruce Rieker, vice president of government relations for the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, said he was concerned with having the bill as part of the state constitution.
“The vagueness of some of the terms, it could lead to quite a few court cases to define some of the language,” Rieker said.
That’s why Rieker said the Bureau’s stance is to, first, conduct an interim study to see the exact need of farms and ranchers to be protected, then follow with legislation as a statute rather than a constitutional change. That way, legislators can define the meaning, rather than having the courts.
Kuehn said a statute is not good enough.
“Statutory protection isn’t a right,” he said.
To further define some of the rights within the legislation, an amendment will be introduced to address water rights. If committee agrees, the additional part of the change will mean water usage and diversion laws will impact the laws in place before Dec. 31, 2015. There will be no back changes in laws if the amendment would be part of the constitutional change and protect laws concerning water rights and uses already in affect.
The Agriculture Committee will meet again sometime in March to further discuss the overall amendment further. While there is opposition, particularly when it comes to the language, Kuehn is confident voters will see the amendment on their November ballot.
“I have established this as my top priority,” Kuehn said. ❖
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I want to address a couple of issues in this week’s editor’s note.