Right to Farm bill withdrawn from Nebraska legislature | TheFencePost.com

Right to Farm bill withdrawn from Nebraska legislature

Samantha Fox

Nebraska voters will have to wait until 2017 — at the earliest — if they want to be the next Right to Farm state.

Despite confidence the constitutional amendment would be on the November ballot, Sen. John Kuehn — the bill's sponsor — withdrew the bill from further discussion in the state legislator last month.

During the interim session, Kuehn will help with a study to see how the bill can improve to address clarity concerns.

During hearing in the Agriculture Committee and on the floor of the Nebraska Unicameral, the biggest questions came from a lack of balance between too much specificity in some other parts of the amendment and a lack of clarity in others.

"There was a lot of challenges regarding the wording," said Sen. Jerry Johnson, chair of the Agriculture Committee.

There wasn't a way to get the bill ready before the legislature's session ended.

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Johnson said it was his recommendation before this point to wait on the bill and conduct an interim study. Johnson said the point is to make sure it's a bill that will actually help protect farmers.

Johnson said part of the reason the bill is being talked about now is in response to animal rights advocates following a New York Times article exposing animal abuse and malnourished animals at a research lab in Clay Center, Neb. The U.S. Meat Animal Research lab is part of the United States Department of Agriculture and is located in Kuehn's district.

"For us, we've already put up a pretty good wall against the animal rights people," Johnson said.

But with national attention, those walls can become easier to get around.

Opposition

The bill has been focused on protecting livestock practices, but some opponents of the measure said not the main motive.

"Who is this really for?" asked John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. "It's the large agribusinesses who support it."

The Nebraska Farmers Union has opposed the bill from the start. Hansen said part of the problem stems from there being a lack of actual need.

Hansen said the bill is a ploy to get voters to the polls.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said he supported the bill, but that backing — according to Hansen — is to get the rural vote after the death penalty was abolished in the state and after Ricketts vetoed the proposal.

Ricketts was unavailable for comment on the Right to Farm bill.

Johnson said as more people started to question some of the wording of the bill, Ricketts did see need for further research into the needs and purpose of the bill.

Other Right to Farm states

North Dakota and Missouri are the only two states with Right to Farm amendments in their states' constitutions, with North Dakota leading the way in 2012. In Oklahoma, voters will decide whether or not it will be a Right to Farm state in November.

Hansen said he talked to his counterparts in the first Right to Farm states, and said they advised him not to support the bill in Nebraska. However, Hansen didn't know of any examples of how being a "Right to Farm" state has caused problems for farmers.

There is a lawsuit against the Oklahoma legislature regarding the state's ballot measure. According to the Tulsa World, a daily newspaper out of Oklahoma, the environmental group Save the Illinois River, Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, and others sued the Oklahoma State Election Board and Attorney General Scott Pruitt in order to prevent State Question 777 from being on the November ballot.

Oklahoma's Right to Farm bill created concerns for those who filed the lawsuit because, if approved, "corporations and courts will set agricultural policy in Oklahoma," the article said.

In Nebraska, Hansen said he shares the same fear, saying all the Right to Farm bill would protect are big corporations, not the family-owned farms.

Another time the Right to Farm act has come into question during legal proceedings was in Missouri, when the Right to Farm amendment was being used by public defender Justin Carver to protect his client.

Carver argued Lisa A. Loesch should be protected under Right to Farm after she was allegedly growing marijuana in her basement. She was arrested and charged in 2012, before the Right to Farm became law. A judge ruled in September the amendment doesn't protect those growing marijuana.

Looking forward

There is statewide want and support for the Right to Farm bill, Johnson said. So the interim between legislative sessions will be used to see the best way to ensure rights for the state are handled correctly and clearly.

That could mean a specific amendment addressing animal rights advocates and animal practices in the constitution, with other parts in statutory law. Or that could mean new wording on a similar next year.

The priority is to get the bill ready for citizens to vote on it.

"Everyone supported the concept," Johnson said. "But after we really started discussing, we had some questions. We like the concept, but we had some concerns."❖

Nebraska Legislature

The final day of the 104th Nebraska Legislature will be April 20.

Nebraska Farmers Union

For more information go to http://www.nebraskafarmersunion.org.