LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature advanced a bill Tuesday aimed at keeping livestock manure in trucks and off of highways in Omaha’s meatpacking district.
The measure introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello would increase minimum fines from $100 to $250 for livestock truck drivers who slop manure on metropolitan highways. After more than four hours of debate on the issue, lawmakers voted 36-4 to send Legislative Bill 174 to second-round consideration.
Even though the measure has the support of South Omaha’s trucking and meatpacking industries, several rural senators expressed concern that it’s too harsh on truckers and slaughter houses.
“If this is a bill to do away with the packing industry in South Omaha, I think that should be made more clear,” said Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte.
No organizations testified against the bill last year when it came before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
Members of the Nebraska Trucking Association and the South Omaha Environmental Task Force, which includes representatives from packing houses, testified in support of the bill. The Nebraska Cattlemen, meanwhile, took a neutral stance.
Mello first proposed a fine increase in 2012, but when the industry opposed it, he made an effort to compromise, he said. The bill that came up for Monday’s first-round debate was the product of that compromise.
“Any illusion that this is going to affect the packing industry is a farce,” Mello said.
State officials documented 42 manure spills on South Omaha highways over a 14-month period in 2009 and 2010 and 25 spills over the last six months of 2012. Most occurred at the off-ramps of U.S. Highway 75 at the L and Q Streets intersections. The spills have become more frequent on the West Dodge Expressway in west Omaha, he said.
Packing plants fine drivers $500 when such spills occur on company property, Mello said. The City of Omaha, which supports the bill, tickets drivers for spills on city streets and leaves it up to a judge to set fines, anywhere from zero to $500.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha offered an amendment to increase the proposed fine from $250 to $550, arguing that the penalty needs to be higher to deter the spills. He later withdrew the amendment.