By SEAN GATEWOOD
The Kansas Legislative session is moving right along now. The big issue is K-12 school finance. The Supreme Court has ruled the current funding formula unconstitutionally inadequate and unequitable. This is a decade plus long battle and will require new money being spent on schools. This issue is what is shaping the legislative session, though it has not actually had much public discussion at this point. Although the state raised taxes last year it is still suffering with some of the problems caused by underfunding over the last few years. Combine that with the school finance issue and we will almost certainly have a nasty budget fight this year. Here are the issues/bills that impact KFU members directly:
Last year, the KanCare/Medicaid expansion bill was passed by 81/125 in the House and 25/40 in the Senate. Unfortunately, the Governor disagreed with the Legislature and to overcome the veto a bill needs 84 and 27. This year we are scheduled for another hearing in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee (SB83) on February 14th 9:00 am. Please contact your legislators on this issue and, if you can attend the hearing, it would be appreciated. Clearly this year we have a different dynamic at play than we did last year. We’re in an election year for the House and the statewide offices, and have a new Governor. Governor Colyer has expressed his negative feelings toward expanding KanCare in the past, but we think that the politics of the situation could sway him if the proposal and situation are right.
Telemedicine is clearly one way to help cover provider shortages in rural Kansas. Kansas does not have a regulatory or statutory framework for telemedicine to occur under at this point. It has been occurring but not nearly performing to its potential. This is why HB2512 is under consideration. Last year there was a hearing on telemedicine, but due to the controversy among insurers and providers, an interim committee was appointed to sort it out. HB2512 is the result of that committee and is largely agreed upon by all parties. Most people believe that with the passage of this bill we will see very rapid growth in the telemedicine market in Kansas.
The Department of Agriculture has been bringing up the issue of noxious weeds for several years now, unsuccessfully. The issue came up again last year but was quickly put to rest. The Department of Agriculture brought it up again this year (HB2583/SB344) with few changes. The department wants to eliminate the need for the legislature to add weeds to the list and to quickly respond to potential noxious weed outbreaks with a committee appointed by the Secretary to make the determinations. The issues around the bill have been on several fronts. The first is the balance between landowner rights and controlling the spread of noxious weeds. This bill moves pretty strongly toward the control of weeds without adding any landowner protections like controls on land access and protections from drift. The other issue that has come up routinely has been the states inability to control noxious weeds on its own land. Clearly, due to the nature of state owned lands, this creates a problem in two directions, either the state does not control the weeds and they become the responsibility of the adjacent landowner or they spray them and drift becomes an issue for the landowner. Either way, this problem has not been addressed. The Dicamba debate and issues are now coming to light in the statehouse and it may shape the debate on this legislation as well. Dicamba is up for informational hearing in the Kansas legislature following Arkansas and Missouri banning it following a wave of complaints of crop damage due to drift.
Three bills are up for consideration this year in regard to poultry. All of these were a result of the Tyson attempts to locate a processing facility in Kansas over the summer. The first bill SB337 was introduced by the Department of Agriculture. KDA, as well as most agriculture groups, say that this bill is just a clean up of old statute and makes no substantive changes to poultry policy. Opponents, however, say that the bill changes the definition of an animal unit with regard to poultry with an eye toward setback regulations for poultry houses thereby allowing more chicken houses in a smaller area. Two more bills SB365 and SB364 were introduced by Senator Tom Holland. They require county approval of poultry catchment facilities and a local vote for approval of poultry processing plants similar to that currently required for hog production. None of these bills has been scheduled for a hearing at this point but I think that this issue will be ramping up in the near future and has the potential to get very interesting.
There have been a number of hearings this year on increasing access to broadband internet in rural communities. Legislators seem to have a strong interest in the subject this year although there have not been any clear proposals to this point. I would anticipate that ISP’s will be putting together proposals over the interim and will be working on what the state can do to make it profitable.