The Unicameral’s Agriculture Committee has voted to send the so-called Right to Farm bill before the full legislature for debate.
Backers say it would provide constitutional protection for the state’s farm and ranch operations, but two of the state’s biggest ag groups are divided.
Laura Field, legislative director for the Nebraska Cattlemen Association, says Right to Farm needs to be in the constitution to protect against those who attack agriculture, Nebraska’s number-one industry.
“It takes 25 votes to make a legislative change,” Field says. “If an idea gets presented to this legislature that is highly emotionally-charged from a group opposing animal agriculture or traditional farming, we have great concern that 25 votes in the senate could make a change in our laws that could be very harmful to agriculture.”
Field says two amendments were considered in the legislation this time around.
“To make it clear this measure would not be retroactive,” Field says. “Anything that passed prior to December 2015, this measure being put in place would not automatically nullify any bill the legislature has already adopted into statute, saying this practice can’t be done or this practice is prohibited.”
Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen says his group opposes the measure and calls it a bad idea.
“It would undermine the entire basis by which we currently regulate all things tied to agriculture,” Hansen says. “It would have put agriculture in a very seldom-used class for legal consideration in with minorities that have been discriminated against.”
The Right to Farm amendment seeks to protect the rights of farmers and ranchers by preventing the state legislature from passing new regulations affecting agriculture without a compelling state interest. Hansen says that legal definition is problematic.
He adds, another problem with the amendment is it helps larger ag operations at the expense of smaller ones.
Hansen says, “When you got down to figuring out the mechanics of how it works, it was going to be in all likelihood a lot more helpful to big agribusiness interests who would be beyond the scope of regulation for their activities as they continue to take over agriculture than it would ever be helpful to average family farmers and ranchers.”
While the Nebraska Cattlemen backs the measure and the Nebraska Farmers Union opposes the legislation, the Nebraska Farm Bureau has taken a neutral position on it.
The measure is modeled after a ballot proposal in Oklahoma, while Missouri and North Dakota have similar amendments to their constitutions. If approved by the Unicameral, Right to Farm would go to a vote of the people in November.
By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton