Sine Die: Nebraska Legislature Concludes a Busy 2022 Session
The 2022 session was a year of significant appropriations, particularly for large-scale water projects. It also brought about new environmental laws. We summarize these, and other laws of interest, below.
The Second Regular Session of the 107th Nebraska Legislature adjourned sine die last week on April 20, 2022. That marked the end of the regularly scheduled session, killing any carryover bills from last session or new bills from this session that did not pass. Bills that passed this session will become law in July, 2022, unless they passed with an emergency clause (as noted below).
Throughout this session, we have tracked a number of bills relating to agriculture, energy, environmental, and natural-resources law. Following bill introduction, we initially identified 59 bills of interest (available here). Next, following the deadline for senators to prioritize bills, we noted 18 of those bills that had made progress (available here). Of those, below are summaries of the 10 bills that became law this session.
LB 1023 (introduced by Speaker Mike Hilgers) adopts two acts relating to water development. First, the Jobs and Economic Development Initiative Act (formerly termed the Lake Development Act) authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) to develop a 3,600-acre lake. To that end, DNR may acquire land, hire contractors, and cooperate with natural resources districts (“NRDs”). While a previous version of this bill specified that the lake must be in Sarpy County, between Lincoln and Omaha, this bill’s final version empowers DNR to select a location. Preference, however, must go toward locations (1) in a county having a population of 100,000 to 300,000 inhabitants (e.g., Sarpy County); (2) within the flood plain or floodway of the Platte River; and (3) that were underwater during the 2019 floods. The lake may not cause flooding to any existing towns and may not utilize a dam.
Second, LB 1023 adopts the Water Recreation Enhancement Act. The Act authorizes the Game and Parks Commission (“GPC”) to develop marinas at Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area and Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area. A special committee of the Legislature will oversee the GPC’s implementation of the Act. The Legislature passed this bill by a vote of 38 to 6 on April 12, 2022, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 18, 2022. Because LB1023 contained an emergency clause, this bill took effect immediately.
LB 1015 (introduced by Speaker Mike Hilgers at the request of Governor Ricketts) adopts the Perkins County Canal Project Act. The Act directs DNR to develop, construct, and operate a canal in Perkins County consistent with the South Platte River Compact. Signed in 1923 and ratified by Congress in 1926, that Compact allocates the South Platte River’s water between Colorado, private appropriators, and Nebraska. This bill specifically authorizes DNR to acquire land using eminent domain. It does not specify an amount of appropriation. The Legislature passed this bill by a vote of 42 to 4, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 18, 2022.
LB 809 (introduced by Senator Mike Moser) relaxes certain limits on the use of federal funds distributed under the Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 USC § 300f et seq. Sections 71-5318 and 71-5322 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes previously restricted how the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (“NDEE”) could administer those funds. Now, NDEE may administer them either as grants or loan forgiveness for up to 75% of a public-water-supply system’s cost. In last year’s federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, PL 117-85, Congress appropriated $4 billion to the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund. See 42 USC § 300j-12. The intent of this bill is to streamline the process for distributing that money to community and public water systems, including municipalities. The Legislature unanimously passed this bill on April 12, 2022, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 20, 2022.
LB 1102 (introduced by Senator Bruce Bostelman) adopts the Nebraska Environmental Response Act. The Act authorizes NDEE to issue orders requiring any person responsible for a release of “pollutants” to clean it up and take any corrective actions necessary to prevent a recurrence. Pollutant means one or more substances or combination of substances that negatively affects the natural physical, chemical, or biological properties of air, land, or waters of the state. The Act also enables NDEE to clean up the release directly and then seek reimbursement for the reasonable cleanup costs, any penalties, and additional remediation efforts. In many respects, the Act resembles the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 USC § 9601 et seq. The Legislature unanimously passed this bill, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 18, 2022.
LB 1068 (introduced by Senator John Stinner) appropriates funds for various health initiatives, including behavioral health psychiatric care. In addition, as relevant here, this bill requires the University of Nebraska to research the environmental and health effects of toxic chemicals, particularly during the production of ethanol from grain or seed treated with pesticide and the storage of byproducts created by such ethanol production. This bill did not initially focus on ethanol research. Senator Carol Blood, however, inserted that focus via an amendment following revelations about the contamination in Mead, Nebraska, from AltEn, LLC’s use of pesticide-treated seeds to produce ethanol. The Legislature passed this bill by a vote of 35 to 8, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 18, 2022. Because it contains an emergency clause, it took effect immediately.
LB 925 (introduced by Senator Tim Gragert) adopts the Resilient Soils and Water Quality Act. Under the act, the Department of Natural Resources must assist agricultural producers, landowners, and others who have an interest in soil health and water quality in forming statewide “producer learning communities.” NRDs and university extension offices may also partner with these communities. Once formed, a community may apply for gifts, grants, and sponsorships. The Communities’ purpose is to aid in soil conservation throughout the state, determining local solutions to protect soil health and water quality. The Legislature passed this bill by a vote of 45 to 5, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 18, 2022.
LB 1144 (introduced by Senator Curt Friesen) is a consolidation of multiple bills, all heard before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. First, this bill alters the process for awarding grants to telecommunications and broadband companies. Among other things, it establishes a preference for telecommunications and broadband projects located in rural communities.
Next, this bill provides an expedited process for telecommunications carriers to obtain wire-crossing permits from railroad carriers.
Finally, this bill adopts the Precision Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Act, creating a grant program of up to $2 million per year administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Agricultural producers, agricultural cooperatives, agronomists, and internet service providers may all apply for grant funding from this program to expand access to high-speed internet and web-based tools for on-farm use. The Legislature unanimously passed this bill on April 13, 2022, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 19, 2022. Because it contained an emergency clause, this bill took effect immediately.
LB 1082 (introduced by Senator Tim Gragert) requires the GPC to provide certain organ and tissue donation information on application for hunting and fishing permits. The Legislature passed this bill by a vote of 45 to 1, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 18, 2022.
LB 848 (introduced by Senator Steve Halloran) changes provisions of the Animal Health and Disease Control Act relating to catastrophic livestock mortality. It allows funds, when available, to go toward disposing of livestock remains during catastrophic events. The Legislature unanimously passed this bill, and Governor Ricketts signed it on April 20, 2022.
LB 1099 (introduced by Senator Bruce Bostelman) creates a Nebraska Hydrogen Hub Industry Work Group. We provide in-depth summary of this bill here. The Legislature unanimously passed this bill, and Governor Ricketts signed it on March 16, 2022. Because it contains an emergency clause, this bill took effect immediately.
Baird Holm attorneys specialize in all aspects of agriculture, energy, environmental, and natural-resources law. In addition, Vanessa Silke is a registered lobbyist. Please contact us if you have any questions.