During last year’s legislative session, identical bills were introduced that would have made significant changes to the Agricultural Corporations Act. Hearings were held on HB2404 in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources and on SB191 in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, but neither bill made it out of committee. In May 2013, the chairpersons of the committee – Rep. Sharon Schwartz and Senator Larry Powell – requested the Kansas Judicial Council review the statutes to determine if there are potential constitutional issues with the laws as currently written.
The Judicial Council considered the request over the summer, and agreed to form a new advisory committee to review the statutes for potential constitutional issues. If the advisory committee determined that provisions of the law have questionable constitutional footing, the committee would suggest changes to the law that would strengthen its constitutionality.
The advisory committee issued a report to the council in early December that recommended Kansas’ corporate farming law be modified to avoid potential conflict with federal interstate commerce laws, but stops short of the sweeping changes sought by the agriculture department and lobbyists.
Richard Levy, professor at the University of Kansas School of Law and member of the advisory committee gave the report’s findings at a recent House agriculture committee meeting. He called the current laws “discriminatory” since they violate the dormant commerce clause, and noted the law could possibly be challenged in court. He suggested adding language to make current law clearer, or simply wait for someone to challenge the law and let the court handle the situation.
Last year the Kansas Department of Agriculture and agriculture lobbyists began urging legislators to make changes the law, saying it would help spur jobs and economic growth.
According to an e-mail from Acting Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey, “The agency does not intend to pursue consideration of the bills. The ruling from the judicial council deserves full consideration before acting.”
Current law restricts ownership of certain agriculture operations, primarily large swine and dairy facilities. It requires a majority of partners must be related, and at least one must live or be actively engaged in the work on the farm. It also limits the number of stockholders in a farming operation to 10 for corporations, 15 for trusts, and requires all corporate farms with land in the state to make annual reports to the Secretary of State about farming operations.
The bills pushed last year would have removed the last vestige a county had left to have any control about what goes on in their own county, often known as “County Option.”
Even though the issue won’t likely come to a committee vote during this legislative session, chances are, it will be back in 2015. Education is the foundation of our organization, and informing the public about the implications of these bills on family farms and rural Kansas is at the top of KFU’s priority list.
KFU is currently monitoring bills related to property taxes, school funding, water, health, and education during this legislative session. For more information on what is happening in the Kansas Legislature, go to www.kslegislature.org