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This past week the Agriculture Committee voted to advance my priority bill, LR 378CA,the Right to Farm Constitutional Amendment, to the full legislature for debate. The strong support of Nebraska’s agriculture commodity groups, including the Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Soybean Association, and Nebraska Pork Producers, as well as the Nebraska Rural Electric Association and Nebraska Cooperative Council represent the value and support for pursuing constitutional protection for Nebraska’s farm and ranch families.
As the bill makes its way through the process, anti-agriculture groups have begun the process of spreading misinformation regarding the Right to Farm. I must underscore several things that LR 378CA does not do. LR 378CA does not give farmers and ranchers carte blanche to do whatever they want. The Right to Farm Amendment does not restrict local municipalities or zoning boards from establishing and enforcing community standards. Every right is subject to reasonable restrictions, and LR 378CA clearly allows legislative action to protect a compelling state interest. The initiative and referendum processes, critical mechanisms to provide a voice to Nebraska’s “second house”, the people, remain fully intact. In addition, language developed working with the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environment Quality further specifies the ability of the state to protect and manage its vital water resources and to comply with federal environmental regulations. Furthermore, a clause is included to keep intact all current statutes put in place by previous Nebraska legislatures prior to December 31, 2015. LR 378CA preserves the current state of operation and protects property rights for future generations.
The question has arisen regarding the protection of Nebraska farm families at the constitutional level, as opposed to the lower, less protective level of statute. The significance of Nebraska agriculture, economically and culturally, raises it to the level of inclusion in the guiding principles of our state. Establishing this constitutional protection clearly codifies the role and significance of agriculture as the foundation and stabilizing force of Nebraska. Placing the right to farm only in statute, which can be amended with only 25 votes in the Nebraska Legislature, fails to provide adequate protection. The objective of LR 378CA is to protect family farmers and ranchers and their property rights from the undue influence of advocacy groups who can drive legislation and regulation. HSUS has already effectively pushed the passage of laws to restrict accepted farming practices in surrounding states. Statutory approaches to right to farm are simply ineffective.
In the era of term limits, institutional memory of senators within the Legislature has a finite span of 8 years. It is for this reason that constitutional protection is so critical. Few even recall that in 2008 LB 1148 was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature to ban the use of gestation crates for pigs. The bill was introduced by a Lincoln senator with little or no connection to agricultural production at the request of HSUS. The introducer stated to the Omaha World Herald “I had no idea that this was such a big issue nationally”, clearly unaware of the impact the legislation would have. In today’s era of social media misinformation and national lobbying efforts, it is dangerous to assume a similar bill would meet the quick fate of LB 1148, which was withdrawn five days after introduction.
Since its adoption, the Nebraska Constitution has been amended 228 times. Since 1990 alone, 37 amendments referred by the Legislature and 6 referred by the initiative process have been adopted by the voters of Nebraska. Our constitution is a living document that reflects the priority of Nebraska’s citizens. With regard to Nebraska’s identity as a state and its role providing food to the nation and global community, there is no topic of greater significance than agriculture.
Constitutional Right to Farm already exists in North Dakota and Missouri, and the Oklahoma legislature has placed the issue before the voters this November. As the national leader in crop and livestock production, Nebraska needs to provide a similar level of protection to our farm families to preserve Nebraska’s place as a national and global leader.
If you have any questions concerning LR 378CA or any other piece of legislation impacting the Legislature, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38