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Nebraska’s livestock industry is a vibrant and significant piece of the state’s agriculture sector and overall economy. Producing approximately $10 billion a year, livestock production represents almost half of all agriculture receipts in Nebraska. As a cattle producer, I understand firsthand the vital role the livestock industry has in this state.
Sustainably growing the livestock industry is important to me, my family, and Nebraska. As I advocate for growth in livestock production, I am cognizant of the economic, infrastructural, environmental, and community issues that surround livestock confinement facilities.
LB 106 seeks to create and adopt the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act. As proposed, the bill directs the development of a matrix to be used by all counties when evaluating zoning applications for livestock confinement facilities. The matrix would be developed through the Department of Agriculture. It also establishes a bureaucratic process by which state authority can override the decision of local county officials who deny a zoning permit. In effect, the bill grants the State control over livestock zoning.
County zoning was first authorized in Nebraska in 1967. Since that time, there have been numerous legislative and judicial modifications addressing zoning issues at both the state and local levels. This is not the first, and it likely will not be the last, attempt to weaken county zoning control in favor of giving increased authority to the state.
From the first day of my campaign in December 2013, I pledged to ensure control over zoning and planning remains at the county level. I strongly believe county planners, commissioners, and community leaders are the best leaders to recognize and assess how a proposed livestock confinement operation may affect their communities and resources. They alone are in a position to know their local community and assist livestock producers in the siting process that protects the livestock producer, brings maximum benefit to the community, and builds community support for livestock production. Nebraska is a diverse state with wide-ranging geographic and economic differences. Even District 38 varies in its local needs. Zoning practices that are appropriate in Clay County may not apply to Phelps County.
Zoning issues can be challenging for both livestock producers and community leaders. I’ve attended many meetings where emotions run high. I fully support the development of clear guidelines and criteria for evaluating zoning applications of all kinds to remove emotion from the discussion and provide clarity to livestock producers and community leaders using current scientific knowledge and accepted evidence based practices. There currently exists no barrier for counties to do so. Several already have. I encourage livestock industry groups and county officials to cooperatively develop such guidelines and include them in their county plans.
I do not, however, believe it is the best interest of livestock producers or local communities to grant the state the authority to force all counties to use a single matrix, overriding the will of local elected and appointed officials.
Over the years, my bull has jumped the fence into the neighbors pasture, my cows have gotten out onto a public roadway, and neighbors have had to wait patiently while I move a herd of cattle across the highway. Despite the inconvenience, we work together, understanding the give-and-take of living in an agricultural community. My goal is to help counties and producers have the tools to promote the dialogue and communication that is the core value of our communities.
This week, the Unicameral will debate LB 106. I look forward to constructive deliberation on the issue, as a number of amendments have already been filed to the original bill. The language of the bill will likely be fluid throughout the process, and I will endeavor to promote livestock development while protecting the local control of our counties and communities.
As always, I appreciate your input on LB 106 and any issue before the Legislature. To contact my office, please call 402-471-2732 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38