Legislature takes rare step of rejecting Ricketts’ pick for Nebraska Brand board

Meat Processing Shortage
Posted at 11:31 AM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 12:31:28-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Continued turmoil over switching the way cattle are branded and identified translated Tuesday into the rare rejection of an appointment by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

On a 35-0 vote, the Nebraska Legislature agreed with a committee recommendation to reject the confirmation of Terry Cone of Burwell to another term on the Nebraska Brand Committee.

The five-member committee, which works out of the agency’s headquarters in Alliance, oversees the identification of cattle and the investigation of lost or stolen cattle. State brand inspectors ensure the identification of livestock at feedlots and sale barns. 

Switch to e-inspection

Recently, the Brand Committee was charged with allowing electronic identification and inspection of cattle as an alternative to the traditional brands that are required in the western two-thirds of the state. Allowing so-called “e-inspection” has been controversial with some cattle producer groups.

State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, who chairs the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee, told colleagues Tuesday there had been a “deterioration of trust” with the Brand Committee that grew worse after the committee recently chose to close to the public a meeting to discuss implementation of “e-inspection.”

Cone, a banker and cattle feeder, was among board members who voted to close a recent subcommittee meeting, which Halloran said ran counter to the “transparency” the committee had pledged. The senator also said Cone “wasn’t consistent” in responses to the legislative committee during his confirmation hearing in February.

‘Not a pleasant task’

“It is not a pleasant task,” Halloran told legislators Tuesday, in asking them to reject the confirmation of Cone, who has a long history of civic involvement and cattle feeding in the Burwell and Ord areas. 

Cone, when reached by phone, said he didn’t want to comment but did say he was “disappointed” to learn of Halloran’s comments.

Halloran, during his comments on the floor of the Legislature, also expressed concerns about the Brand Committee’s relationship with Rob Jennings, who provides e-inspection equipment. The senator said there was a potential conflict of interest with some members of the Brand Committee and Jennings.

Messages not returned

The rejection of a gubernatorial nomination – which came on a 35-0 vote – rarely occurs. It means Ricketts will have to make another appointment. That nominee will serve until at least next January, when the Legislature will consider whether to confirm the selection. 

Messages left Tuesday evening with John Widdowson, the executive director of the Brand Committee, were not immediately returned.

Jennings also did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment Tuesday evening. Halloran said the Brand Committee was no longer working with Jennings.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Download our apps today for all of our latest coverage.

Get the latest news and weather delivered straight to your inbox.