A federal judge shot down Nebraska’s Initiative 300, a state law banning corporate ownership of farms, as being unconstitutional. The law was added to the state’s constitution by voters in 1982.

Judge Laurie Smith-Camp says the law interfered with interstate commerce and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Six plaintiffs filed a lawsuit late last year, including a former state senator. No trial of the legal issues was conducted.

Attorney General Jon Bruning is reviewing legal options. If an appeal is filed, the law would remain in effect until it completes its journey through the legal system.

Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen, who helped put together Initiative 300, says the judge denied state citizens an opportunity to have their day in court. He is pushing Bruning to seek an injunction to delay implementation of the judge’s ruling.

Initiative 300 came about as a response to the 1980s farm crisis, when corporations became landowners, often through foreclosure. The law, with few exceptions, banned ownership of agricultural land or livestock by non-family farm corporations or limited liability partnerships.

The Nebraska law became a model for other states, including South Dakota’s Amendment E that was defeated in federal court two years ago. Some observers saw the South Dakota defeat as an opening taken by Initiative 300 critics.

The judge ruled that Initiative 300 violates the ADA because it mandates at least one family member who owns the farm be engaged in day-to-day physical activities on the farm. The lawsuit claims that provision discriminates against people having disabilities.

Now, the battle will shift from Initiative 300 to county zoning regulations.


Lincoln JournalStar