LINCOLN — County zoning boards can take or leave state guidelines when considering whether to approve large livestock operations under an amended bill that won first-round support Wednesday in the Nebraska Legislature.
The bill's sponsor secured a 32-3 vote to advance the measure by removing language that made state livestock siting regulations mandatory for elected county officials. Most of the senators who opposed the original bill said it substantially reduced local control over where to allow major livestock facilities.
Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse, who introduced and prioritized Legislative Bill 106, said he wants to encourage more beef, swine, poultry and dairy operations. He said the growth rate of those industries in Nebraska is starting to lag that in other agricultural states.
Livestock industry groups that support the bill say uniform standards on setbacks, odor control and other requirements would make the state more attractive to livestock producers.
Under the bill, a panel of experts appointed by the State Department of Agriculture would develop a matrix that county officials could use to determine whether to approve a livestock operation. But an amendment adopted by lawmakers leaves it up to individual county boards to decide whether to use the state standards.
Removing the mandatory provision neutralized the objections of most of those concerned with keeping strong local control over zoning. Representatives from the Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Farmers Union said they could accept the compromise.
Watermeier said that, although it's not everything he wanted, the bill still allows for the creation of a livestock matrix, which he predicted many counties would incorporate into their planning procedures.
The bill now faces two more rounds of consideration by the Legislature.
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