Wyoming and Nebraska legislative update
The Wyoming legislative session wrapped up on April 7 but Nebraska’s legislature is warming up for budget debate next week.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed SEA No. 54. The bill, Gordon said had undergone changes since its introduction, with clarifications added regarding how the concept of preference might be applied when leasing vacant state trust lands, making the bill more workable. However, Gordon said other amendments “unnecessarily tied the hands of the State Board of Land Commissioners removing prerogatives of the SBLC that are essential to executing our duties as a board.”
Wyoming Stock Growers Association executive vice president Jim Magagna said the veto provides a chance to reevaluate and clarify the bill for reintroduction. There were also, he said, several bills to foster value-added agriculture products in Wyoming, particularly meat processing.
Wyoming has a number of small facilities but limited ability to export processed products to other states. Another bill will allocate CARES funds to meat processing and another to allow the Wyoming Business Council, the economic marketing arm, to place heavy focus on a meat processing initiative. A third, he said, didn’t pass but would have created an ag authority similar to the existing energy authority.
The Food Freedom Act was also expanded to allow the sale of eggs to retailers for sale to consumers.
“Other states have tried to do some things based on the Food Freedom Act, which is welcomed,” he said. “It has set the stage now though that our state department of agriculture is in an ongoing battle with USDA FSIS over some of the provisions regarding animal shares.”
Magagna said the WSGA is supportive of a bill recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Cheney, R-Wyo., that would allow the interstate shipment of state inspected meat.
Also noteworthy, a bill requiring the approval of the governor before the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is able to close any of the state’s elk feeding grounds was also signed into law. Magagna said the state’s agriculture community wants to set as high a bar as possible for closures to the feedgrounds. A livestock identification bill also passed that, to the extent the state has over it, Wyoming will not require the use of federal radio frequency ID tags but will endorse systems put in place by producers.
Another bill that passed, he said, came out of the price discrepancies between live cattle and boxed beef that allows the attorney general to bring litigation challenging unfair trade practices that impact Wyoming industry or food prices.
In Nebraska, RB-252 would amend the Veterinary Drug Distribution Licensing Act to allow a veterinary prescription to be filled if the prescriber is deceased. The prescription would be honored for 30 days to allow the livestock owner time to establish a veterinarian-patient-client relationship.
The state budget will be debated next week, including the cash reserve balance. According to Nebraska Farm Bureau president Mark McHargue, one of the most impactful things the legislature can do in the budget is build upon the property tax relief the legislature enacted last year with the passage of LB 1107. According to a release, the measure put in place a framework whereby property tax relief for Nebraskans would grow as the state’s economy grows. The legislation provided the relief through a new refundable income tax credit based on property taxes paid to schools of which Nebraskans were able to claim for the first time this tax season.
“It’s imperative the legislature invest our state tax dollars in the areas that will help strengthen our state by supporting our families, businesses, and communities. That means providing tax relief, finding better ways to fund our schools, and ensuring we have infrastructure that meets our growing needs,” McHargue said.
“Putting tax money back in the hands of hardworking Nebraskans is the best way to help families and communities. The legislature can do that by ensuring the state budget triggers additional LB 1107 tax relief for 2021. It’s imperative senators provide the greatest amount of property tax relief possible,” said McHargue.
Reforms obligating the state to take greater responsibility for funding the education of all of Nebraska’s K-12 students is also a high priority. According to McHargue only 84 of Nebraska’s 243 school districts will receive state equalization aid for the current school year, leaving 159 school districts to be funded primarily through local property taxes. LB 454, a bill introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, would enact “stabilization aid,” a new form of state aid to be directed to school districts that rely heavily on property taxes for funding.
“It’s very important the legislature ensures dollars are available in the budget to fund this important step forward to ensure the state does more to fund the education of Nebraska students regardless of where they live or the size of their school,” said McHargue.
Nebraska Farm Bureau also backs funding a proposal by the governor to put $40 million over the next two years toward grants for expanding broadband in the state.
“There’s no way rural Nebraska or our state will reach its full potential if we don’t expand broadband in Nebraska. It’s important to the future of our schools, telehealth, and main street businesses. It’s critical to farmers and ranchers in using precision technology that allows us to improve across the board, including minimizing our environmental footprint. It’s vital the legislature continues to invest in broadband,” said McHargue.
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