Kansas Farmers Union Tracks Agriculture and Food Bills

One good thing about the budget crisis in Kansas is that it pretty well focuses our legislature on paying the bills while we have much less income coming into state coffers. It doesn’t give them as much time to mess with our lives on the farm that way… So far, so good for county government option rights in regard to corporate hogs….
This session, Kansas Farmers Union coerced a fine, young former legislator, Sean Gatewood, to watchdog the legislature for us. The kid doesn’t know a lot about farming but he knows a heck of a lot about the legislative process. He did a really, really good job for us and we had what I consider to be several “wins” this session, mostly because of his knowledge of the legislative process.
The legislative report below is from Sean. He is reporting the status of bills we are watching at this time in the session.

HB 2595 Food Labeling
This bill is an ALEC bill that has been marketed as an anti-coastal liberal, anti-Mike Bloomberg bill. The proponents of the bill claim that this is to prevent food labeling requirements in restaurants and restrictions like the sugar sweetened beverage size limit that was passed in New York. The bill was written very broadly and potentially could have prevented new farmers markets from being established, hospitals and schools from having nutrition programs, and cities and counties from having any type of agricultural zoning. The bill also has implications for GMO and other types of labeling requirements in the future. The hospitals and school issues were amended out of the bill and so was the zoning requirements but the labeling issues still exist. We also still think there could be problems with some of the farmers market/SNAP matching programs could be effected. There is an attempt to have that amended out but it will be an uphill challenge. The bill passed the House and is expected to be amended into another bill in Conference Committee.
The following is the section from the Conference Committee Report Brief on SB 366 which 2595 was rolled into.
“Nutrition Labeling: The regulation of food nutrition information and consumer incentive items served with food or nonalcoholic beverages sold at restaurants, retail food establishments, or vending machines would be reserved to the Legislature.
The State and “political subdivisions,” as that term would be defined by the bill, would be prohibited from establishing or enforcing policies pertaining to:

  • “Food nutrition” or “consumer incentive items,” as those terms would be defined by the bill;
  • A license or permit issued on condition of food nutrition information or food-based health disparities;
  • The restriction of food service operations based upon food nutrition information or consumer incentive items; and
  • The locations where food is grown, distributed, sold, or served.

The bill would not be interpreted so as to become more restrictive than federal law or regulation affecting nutrition labeling. The food service facilities of political subdivisions would be exempt from the bill, provided the political subdivision’s policies do not restrict another entity. The bill would not be construed as limiting the zoning authority of political subdivisions. Political subdivisions would be allowed to create and promulgate nutritional information in accordance with dietary guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), provided the information would not be contained in a law or ordinance restricting any other entity.”
Update: This bill passed and is expected to be signed by the Governor. The provision exempting farmers market/SNAP did make it onto the bill so those programs should be unaffected.

SB 499/HB 2729 School procurement
This bill was designed to have all school districts to purchase from the state contract. On the House side it was amended to allow schools to purchase outside of the list on all but food, fuel, construction, and technology. On the House floor it was amended to only include food and technology software and equipment. It was then sent back to the House Education Budget Committee. On the Senate side it had a hearing in Senate Ways and Means. It has not been worked.
Update: Both bills failed to pass either chamber.

SB 314 Extension of the Local Food and Farm Task Force
This bill extends the Local Food and Farm Task Force until July of 2017. It carried broad support in both chambers and passed the Senate 38:1 and the House committee of the whole on a voice vote.
Update: This bill has been signed into law by the Governor.

SB 2479 Noxious Weeds
This bill originally took noxious weeds out of statute and into rules and regulations. It gave the Secretary of Agriculture emergency powers along with county weeds directors to control weeds not yet deemed “noxious”. It established a committee to advise and give approval for declaring a plant as “noxious”. It passed the House 85:39. The Senate Natural Resources Committee then altered the bill significantly. First, they amended the bill to keep noxious weeds in statute but grant the Secretary emergency powers. They also added an organic farmer to the committee. They then amended the bill again and that completely changed the nature of the bill. Currently the bill forces local governments and state agencies to control weeds on their land. The bill is now waiting to be heard on the Senate floor or possibly a conference committee.
Update: This bill failed, and as a note for next year, Senator Powell does not seem interested in the bill. His son has been a victim of drift and the Chairman thinks that Kansas should be like Texas and not have a Noxious Weeds Law. I also think this bill may return for next year, but the House members that usually side with us may have learned a valuable lesson that this bill is stoppable.

SB 316 Tax Lid/Sen Sub HB 2088
The property tax lid was originally passed in 2015 and requires that local governments hold an election to increase local assessments beyond inflation. It was original set to be enacted in 2018 this bill would move that date to 2017 due to a fear that local governments are increasing taxes now so that they can better absorb this decrease in capacity in the future. The bill also makes a few exceptions including one for fire, police and EMS. The bill and the previously passed lid have profound potential impacts on local infrastructure. One specific issue would be the lack of Medicaid expansion and rural hospitals that are supported via a local property tax assessment. The bill is currently in conference committee.
Update: this bill passed but made significant changes to the exceptions to the tax lid and how inflation would be figured. Download the brief on the bill.

SB 425
The conservation easement bill hearing had quite a crowd. The KLA, Department of the Army, DOD, and a number of other groups all showed up to oppose the bill. It is pretty apparent that the chair does not like these easements being permanent but I think that there are a good number of members of the committee that disagree with that. The bill has not been brought up to be worked yet.
Update: This bill died without making it to the floor.

SB 263
This bill provides a sales tax exemption for fresh fruits and vegetables. This bill was also introduced last year and has not moved.

HB 2283
This bill gives a sales tax exemption for farm products sold at farmers markets. Introduced by Rep. Henry last year and has not moved.

Cover of 2016 Spring Kontact

Find all the articles from the Spring 2016 edition of the Kansas Kontact here.