Hearing Report – LB 974 (Property Tax Relief)
NEFB President Steve Nelson testified in support of LB 974, before the Revenue Committee this week. Introduced by members of the Revenue Committee, the bill proposes to increase funding to K-12 schools in an effort to reduce the state’s overreliance on property taxes. Supporters of the bill included members of the Agriculture Leaders Working Group, the Platte Institute, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, the Nebraska Bankers Association, and other associations advocating for lower taxes, as well as individuals. Education interests opposed the bill. Testifiers in opposition included the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, Schools Taking Action for Nebraska Children’s Education, which represents mid-sized schools, and the Greater Nebraska Schools Association which represents large schools which receive the bulk of state equalization assistance. The Open Sky Policy Institute also testified in opposition along with a handful of individuals who don’t believe LB 974 provides relief fast enough.
Senators did ask many of the opponents what, if anything, could be amended in LB 974 to garner their support. While “caps” on spending and restrictions on tax asking authority were primary concerns, changes suggested varied slightly from large school districts to smaller ones. It was made very clear that schools do not trust the legislature to continue funding at “adequate” levels and oppose any additional restriction on their ability to levy property taxes.
Hearing Report – LB 802 (Water Rights)
Harlan County Farm Bureau President Doug Winz testified before the Natural Resources Committee this week offering support for LB 802 on behalf of Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Corn Growers Association. Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango introduced the bill on behalf of Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups to codify the common law principle that the right to use groundwater is attached to ownership of the overlying land. In December, Nebraska Farm Bureau members adopted policy supporting this principle, due to concerns about separating water rights from land in Nebraska, as well as concerns about opening the door for Nebraska water resources to be used by out of state interests in the future.
Hearing Report – LB 791 (Livestock Animal Welfare Act)
Nebraska Farm Bureau testified in neutral capacity this week on LB 791, a bill introduced by Sen. Julie Slama of Peru. The bill would modify state law to allow a court to prevent individuals convicted of livestock abuse or neglect from owning or possessing other animals (i.e. pets). The bill was brought in response to a livestock animal abuse case in Sen. Slama’s district. In testimony, Nebraska Farm Bureau reiterated to the committee that such cases of livestock abuse are the exception, not the rule and that farmers go to great lengths to ensure animal care. While NEFB does not have direct policy on the issue in question, Farm Bureau did flag concerns about future efforts to co-mingling animal abuse standards between livestock and pet animals.
Members of the Executive Board heard testimony on LR 279CA this week. Introduced by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk, the proposed Constitutional Amendment would raise the maximum number of state senators authorized by the state constitution from 50 to 55. If approved by 30 senators, the measure would be placed on the ballot for voter approval during the 2020 general election.
Bill Introductions Wrap Up
Legislative bill introductions ended this week, with 1,221 bills being introduced over the two-year session.
Of note in the last days of bill introduction:
Sen. John Stinner of Gering and Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon dropped competing bills related to the future of the Nebraska Brand Committee – Sen. Stinner’s bill (LB 1165) would disband the Committee as well as mandatory brand inspection and place brand registry at the Department of Agriculture. Sen. Brewer’s bill (LB 1200) would update fee schedules, programs, and references within the existing structure of the Brand Committee to help the Committee remain solvent.
Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair introduced a comprehensive proposal to reform education funding by eliminating sales tax exemptions (including exemptions on ag machinery and equipment) while reducing property and income taxes.
Sen. Tom Briese of Albion introduced a bill (LB 1175) to tax “Mechanical amusement devices” and place the revenue generated in the Property Tax Credit Fund.
Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard introduced a bill (LB 1201) to create a Flood Mitigation and Planning Task Force.
Nebraska Successfully Adds to American Farm Bureau Policy
Resolutions on a wide variety of federal policy issues which originated from Nebraska Farm Bureau members was adopted this week by delegates at the 101st American Farm Bureau (AFBF) annual Convention held in Austin, TX. Policy related to excessive railroad crossing blockages, ag machinery repair, increased surveillance to prevent the importation of animal and plant diseases, incentives to help build new meat processing facilities, and support for the inclusion of federal irrigation project maintenance to any federal infrastructure package, were all added to the AFBF policy book. Non-Nebraska policy issues which also received considerable conversation included changing the federal rules and regulations surrounding hemp production, the future of the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), dairy policy, as well as a wide variety of regulatory and transportation issues. The final version of the 2020 AFBF policy book will be available soon.
Right to Repair – Update
“Right to Repair” began as a movement promoting federal legislation intended to allow consumers to repair and modify their own consumer electronic devices. As farm equipment becomes more sophisticated, the ability of farmers to repair parts has been impacted by copyrighted software, more recently, “Right to Repair” has been applied to agriculture machinery repair.
At the American Farm Bureau (AFBF) annual convention last week, delegates adopted language supporting an agreement between farmers/ranchers and equipment manufacturers to provide more capacity to fix their equipment. This language was only slightly modified from the initial language that was adopted at the Nebraska Farm Bureau annual convention.
The policy adopted does give AFBF and NEFB the ability to support legislation if an agreement isn’t achieved. However, an agreement between the industries is our preferred path.
At NEFB’s annual convention in December, delegates adopted additions to our “Right to Repair” policy by a voice vote. Any reference to a recorded vote is incorrect. Like AFBF, NEFB’s house of delegates is made up of people from a variety of agriculture-related backgrounds, including farmers, ranchers, equipment dealers, diesel mechanics, and so forth.
There exists a variety of desired outcomes at play when it comes to “Right to Repair,” including those which reach well beyond ag machinery owners and their ability to effectively and timely repair their equipment. Farm Bureau will continue trying to achieve compromise in the private sector and working on these issues on behalf of our members, understanding they come from and represent many aspects of production agriculture.
Please feel free to reach out to Bruce Rieker (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions or concerns.
USMCA – Update
The U.S. Senate passed President Trump’s update to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) now known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) with a strong bipartisan vote. This comes on the heels of the House passing the agreement just before Christmas. It’s now been reported that President Trump plans to sign the agreement at a ceremony at the White House this upcoming Wednesday (Jan. 29th). The official signing of USMCA, which updates the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), represents a major win for agriculture as the agreement opens new markets for dairy, wheat, and poultry products. The agreement also provides some needed updates and more importantly, preserves free market access for a vast majority of U.S. agriculture products into two of our largest trading partners. While Mexico has already passed the agreement, Canada has yet to take up the agreement. Recent reports indicate the Canadian Parliament will look to pass the agreement in April.