- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - An attempt to repeal Nebraska’s black-tailed prairie dog management law was derailed Thursday by senators who argued that the animals ruin grazing land.

The repeal bill hit a last-minute roadblock before a final vote in the Legislature. A procedural vote initiated by a leading opponent kept the bill from passing before a Thursday morning deadline, and Speaker Galen Hadley said he won’t allow it back onto this year’s agenda.

The 2012 law gives counties the option to control the spread of black-tailed prairie dogs when a landowner’s neighbors complain about the animals on their property. Supporters of the law argued Thursday that the animals destroy valuable grassland and reduce property values.

Only Sheridan County in northwest Nebraska has made use of the law, requiring written notification that gives landowners 60 days to manage the prairie dog colonies. Landowners who fail to comply could face a fine of up to $1,500. If they haven’t shown progress after 60 days, the county can send an agent to take “appropriate management measures” at the owner’s expense.

County officials have said they were previously unable to help several ranch owners whose neighbors allowed prairie dogs to flourish and migrate onto other properties.

“We are dealing with people who are being obstinate and not trying to address the problem,” said Sen. Al Davis, a Hyannis rancher who led the opposition.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are considered a “keystone” species that play a crucial role in the region’s ecological balance. They’re widespread in parts of northwest Nebraska, where they dig holes in ranchland. Ranchers say cattle can step in the holes and break legs.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who sponsored the bill, said the law is unconstitutional because it doesn’t include due-process safeguards. Chambers said the law allows county officials to trespass on private land without a warrant and offers landowners no legal recourse if their property is damaged.

“It disregards property rights, and I do believe that a lawsuit would strike this statute down,” Chambers said. “But it shouldn’t be necessary to do that.”

The bill died after lawmakers voted 26-10 to reconsider a motion that would have pulled it off the floor and return it to committee.

The last-minute attack on the bill, which had advanced through two earlier votes, drew criticism from some lawmakers. Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said he might try to revive the legislation as an amendment to another bill because he disapproved of the tactics used to defeat it. Shortly after the vote, Chambers filed motions on 10 other bills set for a final vote to prevent them from passing.

Hadley publicly warned lawmakers this week that they’re running out of time to pass bills in this year’s session.

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The bill is LB128

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