LB 106 is a bill that is a perfect example of why I tell many of you when we visit, either in person or by some other means, that I am reluctant to support a bill until it reaches the floor of the Legislature for General File debate. Bills can say one thing at first and be changed significantly as they move forward. Such is the case with this measure.
First of all, we had a hard time finding a committee for this bill. It was originally referenced to the Agriculture Committee but upon close examination, we realized this bill talked about where to put livestock operations not how to build them. Realizing this bill probably spoke more to zoning issues, we asked that the bill be re-referenced to the Government, Military and Veteran’s Affairs Committee. This was somewhat a stretch for this committee as well but they took it.
As initially presented it was suggested this bill would encourage growth in the livestock industry “simplifying” the process of application and siting in each county. While the state is a leader in many livestock categories, proponents of LB 106 point to the decline in dairy operations in the state as well as lagging growth in other sectors as reasons to adopt this measure. It is felt that the state is a “patchwork quilt” for those looking to expand into or around our state. It was pointed out that regulations for expansion varied widely across our 93 counties. It was felt that by creating some order out of the confusion it would help our state economically and in our huge agriculture industry. A statewide matrix or plan was to be developed by the Department of Agriculture that would be given to each county to follow. The use of the matrix was to be mandatory and would outline several standards that would be followed giving developers a clear path to follow.
It was this mandate to use the matrix that caused the fall-out. I learned very quickly when I came to the Legislature, the meaning of the phrase “local control”. You can do many things here in the Unicameral but don’t mess with local control. What works and is good for people in Scotts Bluff may very well not work at all in and around Schuyler. As introduced this state mandate seemed to encroach into county board business. Many counties, by comprehensive plans or other means, have set their own standards for feedlot permitting. As you can imagine, agriculture groups, county boards, cities and individuals quickly took sides with a clear majority opposing this idea.
After lengthy debate, LB 106 was amended to be mainly voluntary. The bill now provides that a panel of experts would be appointed by the Department of Agriculture. They would be charged with developing the matrix that county officials could use, if they want, to decide whether to use this approach. The board would be made up of representatives from several organizations from across the state and would possibly divide the state into sections to better meet local needs. Again, the use of the matrix would answer siting, smell, size, water issues and any other related county level concerns.
Now that the bill has become voluntary, I can imagine virtually all counties across the state accessing this matrix and at least using it as a guide when needed.
At the end of the week the Speaker of the Legislature gave us what some would describe as a pep talk and others may see it as a kick in the pants. He reminded the body that we have a little over 30 working days before adjournment. We have 60 priority bills that haven’t made it through the first round yet and 22 priority bills still stuck in committee. He said we need to get busy and he is probably correct.
Senator Jerry Johnson