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POLICY WATCH

NEFB Weighs in on School Funding, ESG, and Rural Fire Support Proposals

Work towards Nebraska Farm Bureau’s (NEFB) policy priority of reducing Nebraska’s overreliance on property taxes and seeking a more balanced system to fund education continued this week at the Nebraska Legislature as NEFB testified in support of LB 320 (Brandt). The bill looks to lower property valuation in the TEEOSA formula, the method to be used for computation and distribution of state equalization aid to K-12 schools.

LB 320 does four things within the TEEOSA formula:

  1. Lowers agriculture land valuation from 72 percent to 42 percent,
  2. Lowers all other real property from 96 percent to 86 percent,
  3. Creates a minimum level of basic school funding of 10 percent, and
  4. Creates the TEEOSA Trust Fund.

NEFB supports the bill because it delivers property tax relief to not just farmers and ranchers, but to all owners of residential, commercial, agriculture, and other real property in Nebraska.

NEFB also testified in support of LB 730 (Holdcroft), a bill that would require banking institutions, credit unions, and insurance providers to provide products and services to persons based on financial merit and not on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. During the bill testimony, NEFB told senators that the use of nonfinancial factors to evaluate investment opportunities and creditworthiness has proliferated in recent years, the most recent form being ESG.  ESG is “a social credit score” based on subjective standards for climate mitigation and social justice. Right now, the agriculture sector is under great scrutiny of ESG ideologies. According to NEFB those scoring ESG will not be gracious to farmers because of subjective, ideological standards.

Recently, farmers and ranchers had a sneak peek about what a potential ESG regulation within the federal government would look like when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) introduced regulations to require publicly traded companies to submit supply chain greenhouse gas emissions reports with their typical financial disclosure paperwork, which would have made farmers and ranchers subject to new and complex reporting requirements.

NEFB thanked Sen. Holdcroft for bringing the issue of ESG to the attention of the Legislature and urged senators to advance the bill.

As part of the Ag Leaders Working Group, NEFB also showed support for LB 655 (McDonnell), which would appropriate $1.125 million to the State Fire Marshal to establish two statewide firefighting crews with expertise to support and assist rural communities and rural fire departments with prescribed burns and wildfires.

With the legislative session a third of the way complete, NEFB remains focused on several policy priorities. Public hearings will continue through March 24, but floor debate has begun. Bills that are advanced from committee in the Unicameral must go through three stages of debate – General File, Select File, and Final Reading – before it goes to the governor. These next few recess days will be important planning for next week as hearings continue, and committees decide which bills get advanced to General File. 

Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) Heads to DC for Issue Advisory Committee Meetings

Each February, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) holds a series of Issue Advisory Committee meetings at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. to examine issues and develop potential policy to be included in our policy development process. NEFB Board Member, Matt Jedlicka began his first year of service on the Market Structures Committee. During his committee meeting, Jedlicka explored general agricultural marketing issues, transportation and supply chain concerns, foreign ownership issues, as well as USDA’s latest proposed changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act. NEFB’s Sr. Director of National Affairs, Jordan Dux was also in Washington serving as the state staff liaison for the Technology Committee. The Committee spent time hearing from Congressional staff, University professors, and staff from other associations. Topics discussed include broadband expansion, drone use in agriculture, precision agriculture, Universal Service Fund reform, as well as the Right to Repair issue. Dux also spent time on Capitol Hill discussing the upcoming Farm Bill as well as livestock antibiotics rules with staff of Nebraska’s Congressional Delegation.

Attorney General Hilgers Joins Multistate Lawsuit against EPA to Protect States’ Sovereignty Over Water and Land

Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers joined a coalition of more than 20 states in a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers, asking a federal court to vacate the newly published final rule redefining Waters of the United States (WOTUS) and declare it unlawful. The new final rule is the culmination of a decades-long rulemaking process to define the geographic reach of the EPA’s and Army Corps of Engineers’ authority in regulating streams, wetlands, and other water bodies under the Clean Water Act. It follows the Trump administration’s 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which offered a more restrained vision of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Most notably, the new rule redefines “navigable waters” to include ponds, certain streams, ditches, and other bodies of water under the CWA, as determined by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. According to the coalition, the flawed and unlawful rule will affect farmers who may need to get permission from the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to fill or dredge wetlands or waterways, depending on whether those features fall under the federal government’s purview. Developers, miners, and other property owners wishing to use their land will also face implications. The lawsuit noted that the EPA and Army Corps rushed to issue the final rule even though the Supreme Court is expected to issue a key decision on the scope of WOTUS in just a few weeks’ time. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last October in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, a years-long battle over the reach of the CWA. Nebraska joined a 26-state coalition in support of the petitioners, Michael and Chantell Sackett. The coalition’s lawsuit indicated that “if the final rule is left in place, then ranchers, farmers, miners, homebuilders, and other landowners across the country will struggle to undertake even the simplest of activities on their own property without fear of drawing the ire of the federal government. Landowning Americans of all stripes will thus be left with a choice: (a) fight their way through an expensive and lengthy administrative process to obtain complex jurisdictional determinations and permits or (b) face substantial civil and criminal penalties. The Final Rule’s ambiguous environmental benefits do not justify any of this,” according to the lawsuit. Nebraska joined Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming in the lawsuit. Nebraska Farm Bureau is grateful Attorney General Hilgers joined in to fight back against this harmful expansion of the federal government’s regulatory reach.

Farm Service Agency Accepting Applications for Revenue-Based Disaster, Pandemic Assistance Programs

Nebraska USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) is accepting applications for two new important programs for revenue losses from 2020 and 2021 natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic. Both programs are designed to fill gaps in earlier assistance. Producers may be eligible for assistance through the Emergency Relief Program (ERP) Phase 2 if they experienced revenue losses from eligible natural disasters in 2020 and 2021. Producers may also be eligible for the Pandemic Assistance Revenue Program (PARP) if they experienced revenue losses in calendar year 2020. PARP is addressing gaps in previous pandemic assistance, which was targeted at price loss or lack of market access, rather than overall revenue losses. Applications for both new programs are due June 2, 2023, and producers can apply for both programs during their same appointment with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). 

Nebraska FSA is partnering with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Center for Agricultural Profitability on an informational webinar to review the programs. It is set for 12:00 noon CT on Thursday, March 2. It is free and registration can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/ne under the ERP 2/PARP spotlights story on the front page.

For more information, producers should contact their county FSA office or reference the ERP Phase Two Fact Sheet, PARP Fact Sheet or the ERP Phase Two-PARP Comparison Fact Sheet. Websites for each program can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/emergency-relief and www.farmers.gov/coronavirus/pandemic-assistance/parp.     

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