Sunday, February 9, 2014

Want to experience more of Nebraska? Support LB 551

Farming and Ranching in Nebraska is a tough, tough business.

There is drought… and flooding. There are high land prices… and high property taxes. There are high cattle and commodity prices… and high input prices. There are also low cattle and commodity prices… and still high input prices.

It is said that farmers and ranchers are the only business owners who buy retail, sell wholesale and pay the freight both ways. It is a tough way to make a living, yet Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers love it.

What they don’t love is that people are so disconnected with who grows the food that they eat, that they don’t understand the issues involved. Like “don’t slaughter that beautiful cow… get your meat at the grocery store where no animal is harmed.”

One tactic to combat all of these issues can be accomplished by one action: Invite people to come on to your farm and/or ranch and let them experience Nebraska’s rural lifestyle – for a fee. The farming and ranching family earns an income from Nebraska’s third largest industry (that’s tourism, if you didn’t know), and more people get to experience the beauty that we know is Nebraska. Of course, the entire state wins as well with additional revenue across industries.

Why don’t we do more of this? Because of the structure of Nebraska’s recreational liability laws. Briefly, the way it stands now is this. If a landowner wants to earn extra income and charge you a fee for experiencing a rural vacation, they bear 100% of the liability if you should be hurt. Even if it were something completely out of their control, and even if some foolishness on your part contributed to an injury.

Can you imagine how cost prohibitive it is for landowners to get insurance when they bear 100% of the liability? All other states whose rural economy thrives on farm stays and dude ranch experiences provide for a shared responsibility.

For many years, the Nebraska Tourism Industry has made it a priority to enact legislation that would provide for a shared liability. LB 551 is currently in the judiciary committee, where it has been before. This committee is dominated by eastern senators who don’t understand the needs of rural Nebraska. You can help move this bill out of committee by contacting these senators and asking them to support their rural neighbors by giving them the tools that will allow them to develop another income stream from their properties.

Developing a new tourism attraction is hard and expensive. Many banks won’t even discuss loans for such enterprises. However, landowners often have little or no added investment (except, of course, you know… liability insurance. Then there’s the risk of losing your family farm…) by opening up their land to horseback riding, photography, nature walks, etc.

I am currently working with landowners to allow blinds for crane viewing, prairie chicken viewing and prairie dog viewing (Did you know that scientists have identified more than 100 gestures and vocalizations with which prairie dogs communicate with each other?). Right now the best protection I can give them is to tell them they have to offer these wonderful experiences for free. With all of the financial issues landowners face today, I would LOVE to be able to tell them they could add income to their operations by charging. I might add, these are experiences many, many people would gladly pay a fee for.

So, how can you help? By contacting members of the judiciary committee and asking them to allow this bill to the floor of the legislature for debate.

Here are the details:

Description of Legislation

LB 551 revises existing recreation liability laws, which have been the subject of significant disagreement and litigation. It provides protection from liability for landowners allowing persons on their land for recreation and tourism activities, such as hunting, fishing, birding, hiking, water sports and archeological work. It allows landowners to charge a fee for such activities, but requires notice be given of inherent risks on the land, in order for the landowner to be protected from liability.

LB 551 does not provide absolute protection against liability. Its focus is on protecting landowners from liability arising from injuries and damages caused by inherent risks of the land. It does not change ordinary standards of care the landowner has for not notifying the participant of known hazards, not maintaining equipment, or not properly training employees. Nor does it relieve the landowner or liability for acts that are grossly negligent, willfully in disregard for the safety of others, or intentional.

Synopsis of Legislation
  • LB 551 encourages landowners to grant access to their lands for recreation and tourism activities by reducing the risk of liability and cost of insurance
  • Defines “inherent risks” of such lands
  • Limits liability for injury, damage caused by inherent risks
  • Does not limit liability for
    • Particular hazards that should have been known by landowner
    • Failure to maintain equipment
    • Failure to properly train employees
    • Willful disregard for others’ safety, gross negligence or intentional conduct
  • Requires landowner, who charges a fee for access, to notify participant of inherent hazards
Who to contact?

Judiciary Committee:
  • Sen. Brad Ashford: 402.471.2622 bashford@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Ernie Chambers: 402.471.2612
  • Sen. Mark Christensen: 402.471.2805 mchristensen@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Colby Coash: 402.471.2632 ccoash@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Al Davis: 402.471.2628 adavis@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Steve Lathrop: 402.471.2623 slathrop@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Amanda McGill: 402.471.2610 amcgill@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Les Seiler: 402.471.2712 lseiler@leg.ne.gov
When to do it? NOW!

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