LINCOLN — The sponsor of a legislative resolution proposing to add "right to farm" language to the Nebraska Constitution called off debate on the idea Thursday but vowed to bring it back next year.
State Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell decided to table Legislative Resolution 378CA rather than spend another three hours debating what shaped up as a controversial proposal during first-round floor debate.
Kuehn would have needed 33 votes to end a filibuster and hold an up-or-down vote on the resolution. Votes on two preliminary motions Wednesday suggested that the overall measure would not clear the 33-vote hurdle.
The senator said he introduced the resolution to protect the state's top industry, agriculture, from activist groups intent on ending livestock production or banning genetically modified crops. His resolution sought to block future lawmakers from passing legislation infringing upon a right to farm and ranch.
During Wednesday's discussion, most rural senators showed support for the measure. Some urban senators argued that it was unnecessary to elevate farming and ranching to the level of a constitutional right.
The debate, Kuehn said, demonstrates the need to educate urban senators about what he sees as a threat.
"The number of urban senators who don't have a knowledge of production agriculture and the threat from groups outside the state will only continue to get worse," he said.
Among those withholding support was Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo, chairman of the Agriculture Committee. He expressed concerns about the resolution language, suggesting it could have opened the door to lawsuits from ag opponents.
Johnson has introduced his own measure calling for a detailed study of the issue during the interim. He said Kuehn is invited to participate.
Kuehn said he was still convinced a constitutional amendment is the right approach. State laws, no matter how ag friendly, can always be repealed, he argued.
The proposal had the support of Gov. Pete Ricketts, which led some to question whether Kuehn was carrying the measure on behalf of the governor.
Kuehn called such speculation false. The resolution was his own idea, he said, though he sought the governor's support.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau, the state's largest ag group, expressed concerns that a "right to farm" amendment could attract lawsuits by animal rights groups and others.
"With just a few legislative days remaining, we look forward to continuing our efforts to address property taxes, which is the No. 1 priority for Farm Bureau members," Steve Nelson, the group's president, said Thursday.
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