By Kelli Rollin, Nebraska News Service
LINCOLN--Thursday, May 7 brought long awaited hope for supporters of the Nebraska Agritourism Promotion Act.
The bill, LB 329, introduced by Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, aims to encourage people to let others on their land for argitourism purposes and would limit landowner liability.
After being on the agenda for two weeks, the bill advanced in the Legislature on a 33-1 vote.
Under the bill, a landowner wouldn't be held liable under certain situations involving injury or death due to inherent risks, such as stepping in a hole made by prairie dogs.
Agritourism includes activities such as farm tours, fishing, boating, harvesting and horseback riding.
A landowner would have to inform visitors of dangers and risks on the property to be covered under the bill. Schilz said whether a landowner would be held fully liable depends on the situation and a court's decision in a particular case.
Debate over the somewhat controversial bill lasted about an hour and a half Thursday afternoon. More than a dozen senators commented on the bill.
Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln brought a practical view to the floor. With families wanting to bring their kids to farms and other agritourism places, Bolz wondered if warning of dangers was enough.
"I'm just trying to view this bill from a perspective of a soccer mom," Bolz said.
Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln shared different concerns about he bill. Hansen said it seemed like a way for victims to be victimized even more by a landowner not being held liable.
"I'm simply not following," Hansen said.
On the other side, Sen. John McCollister of Omaha said the bill offers more opportunities.
"I am so happy that this bill has come forward," McCollister said.
He said Omaha has the Henry Doorly Zoo and a children's museum, "but Nebraska is much more than that," and agritourism showcases the state.
Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis said he actually had a small agritourism business with his wife. They operated a ranch house and offered horseback riding and hunting among other activities.
He said children would sometimes walk right up to the horses before the animals calmed down. Davis said he warned the children of the risks and told them to wait until it was safe.
Coming from the landowner perspective, Davis said LB 329 is a "really good bill," because it encourages people to start and maintain agritourism businesses. By having some liability coverage under the bill and not being sued over unpreventable risks, landowners would be more likely to host agritourism activities.
"We're going to expose people to Nebraska," Davis said.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte also supported LB 329. He said it could bridge the gap between rural and urban people by encouraging agritourism.
"This will help the urban people realize you're welcome in the country," Groene said.
This is the third time Schilz has introduced an agritourism bill, but he said the concept has been introduced by others in the Legislature before him.
The bill will go to select file and later be scheduled for another round of discussion.
Contact Kelli Rollin at firstname.lastname@example.org.