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POLICY WATCH 12-6-19

A report from Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Governmental Relations team.

Expanding Broadband

This week, Jason Perdue of York testified on behalf of NEFB at a state Transportation and Telecommunications Committee hearing on the Rural Broadband Task Force report to the Legislature. Jason told the Committee that NEFB agrees with many findings and recommendations of the task force, including clarifying that internet service is an approved use for accessing easements and eliminating any remaining restrictions on leasing dark fiber, which some believe is holding up advancement of more public-private partnerships. NEFB also wants to ensure the efforts of the Task Force, State Legislature, and Public Service Commission are not unnecessarily burdensome or duplicative, but we do support more comprehensive, accurate broadband service maps, technology neutral policies to address the cost and logistical problems facing rural broadband deployment in the most cost-effective ways, and establishment of a Subcommittee on Agriculture within the Task Force.

Infrastructure Development

Farm Bureau monitored a hearing on LR 138 in the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee this week. LR 138, is an interim study proposed by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha to identify three to five infrastructure project opportunities in eastern Nebraska to provide flood control, a reliable drinking water supply, power generation, climate change mitigation and recreation, and to attract and retain a workforce to foster regional and economic growth. To identify such opportunities, the study was to compile information regarding hydrology and water supply, geotechnical information, existing infrastructure, existing and future recreation and economic needs in the region, existing and expected economic data for the region, existing and expected demographic data for the region, future land use master plans, existing and planned transportation infrastructure, and land ownership data.

USDA CRP Sign-Up Dates

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture is opening signup for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) on Dec. 9, 2019. The deadline for agricultural producers to sign up for general CRP is Feb. 28, 2020, while signup for continuous CRP is ongoing. CRP has 22 million acres enrolled, but the 2018 Farm Bill lifted the cap to 27 million acres. This means farmers and ranchers have a chance to enroll in CRP for the first time or continue their participation for another term. Learn more here.

USMCA Update

United State Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer continues his efforts to court House Democrats on President Trump’s new U.S., Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA). This week, Ambassador Lighthizer sat down with Mexican Undersecretary for North America Je’sus Seade to work through concerns Democrats say could make or break the agreement. While NEFB continues to push Congress to pass the agreement as it provides new market openings for U.S. wheat, dairy products, and poultry, House Democrats have focused their attention on enforcement of the agreement’s labor provisions. News headlines indicating a deal might be close at hand have been written for months, but the latest standoff has the potential to push a vote on USMCA into next year as less than 10 legislative days remain on the Congressional calendar. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over trade policy, said he worries next year’s political season means massive uncertainty for the future of the agreement if it isn’t voted on in 2019. All five members of Nebraska’s Congressional Delegation continue to push their colleagues to bring the agreement up for a vote yet this year.

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