LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature advanced a bill Wednesday that could make it harder for wildlife groups to give habitat land to the federal government.
Lawmakers voted 27-17 to send Legislative Bill 57 to second-round consideration. State Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill, sponsor of the bill, first had to rally 34 votes — one more than the minimum — to cut off debate after eight hours.
The bill would require conservation groups that buy land with grants from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to get trust approval before transferring the land to the federal government. Prior approval for land transfers is currently required under trust policy, but Larson wants to enshrine the policy in law so future trust boards will be bound by it.
Opponents argued that the bill is unnecessary and called it an assault on the trust, which distributed close to $20 million in state lottery proceeds to environmental projects in 2012.
“This is a part of that anti-federal government agenda,” said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who tried unsuccessfully to send the bill back to the Natural Resources Committee.
Elected officials in some rural counties have objected to the practice because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes payments in lieu of taxes on its properties. Such payments amount to less than what the property tax assessment would be.
Larson's bill would require trust grant recipients to make payments equaling the full tax amount.
Opponents asked how much money such land transfers were costing counties in tax revenue. Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege said that in Clay County alone, the annual amount due on Fish and Wildlife Service land would be $150,000. But the service has paid as little as $700 in lieu of taxes some years.
But Haar pointed out that most of the federal land in Clay County was purchased outright by the federal government. Only 320 acres were transferred using a trust grant, which might equate to about $5,000 annually in taxes.
A total of eight such transfers have occurred or are pending in Nebraska, which involve about 1,200 acres combined. Most of the transfers were made to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Larson could not say how much the transfers have cost counties, but he argued that any lost tax revenue is too much.
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