Special Session & Corporate Ag Update

The Kansas Capitol is going through numerous exterior renovations this summer, including a new copper roof, plus cleaning and repair work. The work on the Capitol, which has stretched on for over a decade, will be finished this winter, and a dedication is planned for sometime in 2014.

The Kansas Capitol is going through numerous exterior renovations this summer, including a new copper roof, plus cleaning and repair work. The work on the Capitol, which has stretched on for over a decade, will be finished this winter, and a dedication is planned for sometime in 2014.

Special Session Update:

The House convened this morning at 8 a.m. and broke until 3 p.m. while it waits on the Senate to work the Hard-50 bill that the House passed to it 122-0 on Tuesday.

The Senate, in at 9 a.m., broke until 1:30 p.m., and likely will reconvene, break again for caucuses, then consider the Hard-50, and about 20 confirmations including that of Caleb Stegall, who has been nominated to the Kansas Court of Appeals by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering the Hard-50 bill, and the talk around the Capitol is there won’t be significant, if any, amendments to the bill.

The day could be wrapped up this afternoon if there are no amendments to the House’s version of Hard-50 or minimal amendments in the Senate that the House might concur with.

As soon as the Senate has taken final action on an unamended Hard-50, the House’s work for the special session is done, the House having no role in confirmations proceedings.

If the stars all align, it looks like everyone will be packed up and headed for home sometime this afternoon.

Corporate Agriculture Update:

A group of six lawyers and two legislators met Friday, August 30th to discuss the constitutionality of the state’s corporate farming law — a law targeted for elimination recently.

An effort to roll back the 82-year-old law that restricts corporate farming in Kansas stalled last year, despite support from Gov. Sam Brownback and Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman, who said the law is outdated and limits economic growth.

The Kansas Judicial Council’s Agricultural Corporations Advisory Committee took a look at it Friday at the behest of Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington.

“Rep. Schwartz was kind of the impetus for this, the initial request,” said Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, the committee chairman who is also a lawyer.

Schwartz, who farms with her family in rural Washington county, is the only non-lawyer on the advisory committee.

Kinzer said the committee’s goal wasn’t to recommend policy, but to determine “are there questions with respect to the constitutional footing of the Kansas statute and would there be things we could do either implicating or not implicating policy changes.”

Discussion swirled around the extent of the U.S. Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause as it relates to the Kansas law’s requirements that those farming the land either live on the property or be involved in its management and a clause that gives counties authority to determine whether they will allow large-scale hog or dairy farms that don’t fit the family farm model.

The discussion was observed by representatives from several agriculture lobbying groups and officials from the Department of Agriculture.

Friday’s meeting concluded with the board agreeing to reconvene after more study.

Future advisory committee meeting dates have been set for September 27, October 25, and November 22, 2013, all at 1:30 p.m. in the Kansas Judicial Center. The Kansas Judicial Council’s next meeting is December 6, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. in the Kansas Judicial Center, south of the state capitol.

K-State Extension’s Budget in Jeopardy

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K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a partner in the nationwide land-grant system of universities, created in the 1860s to educate people from all walks of life and to generate and distribute useful public knowledge. K-State scientists and extension faculty draw on the expertise and accumulated studies and discoveries of the land-grant system, other universities, state and federal agencies, and industry.

Last night I was informed about looming cuts to K-State Research and Extension by the House and Senate Budget Conference Committee, cuts pushed by Rep. Virgil Peck (R) of Tyro, KS. This is the same Virgil Peck who, two years ago, took major heat after suggesting that illegal immigrants be shot like wild hogs by gunmen in helicopters.

Rep. Peck has now set his sights on K-State Research & Extension’s budget for the next two years. The following message was sent out by Kansas State University’s Director of K-State Research and Extension and Dean of the College of Agriculture, John Floros:

Dear faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension:

Yesterday we were informed of a State legislative proposal that, if it came to pass, it will have a seriously negative impact and many lasting effects to the College of Agriculture and to all of our K-State Research & Extension activities.

With respect to the KSU budget, the House/Senate Conference Committee agreed to 1.5% across the board cut for the next fiscal year (FY ’14), and an additional 1.5% across the board cut for FY ’15. In addition, they proposed an immediate “salary cap lapse.” In simple terms, this means a sweep of all vacant position lines at a given date (proposed for sometime in March ‘13). For the CoA and KSRE it amounts to approximately 8% permanent budget reduction. The total budget reduction would be about 11% (~9.5% for FY ’14 (8% from the lapse + 1.5% FY ’14 cut), plus 1.5% for FY ’15). It translates into a devastating number of more than 100 staff and faculty positions. A crisis in the making!

Our K-State Governmental Relations team is hard at work in Topeka trying to explain the enormous impact such cuts would have to the University, the College of Agriculture, and to K-State Research and Extension. Hopefully, this legislative proposal will not be accepted by the vote of the Kansas legislature, and the crisis will be avoided. Stay tuned…”

The best thing all Kansans can do is contact their legislators and even the Governor and demand that the cuts to K-State Research & Extension be reconsidered. From what I understand, it will only take 63 votes for this effort to pass, so time is of the essence to stop this evisceration of a vital state program. For more information on K-State Research and Extension, and the work they do across Kansas, please go to www.ksre.ksu.edu or read the 2013 Legislative Report at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/doc14876.ashx.

Tour of Kansas City to provide inside look at behind the scenes agriculture

McPHERSON, KAN.- May 22, 2013 – Kansas Farmers Union is hosting a trip to Kansas City on June 7, where we’ll tour USDA’s GIPSA National Grain Center, the Kansas City Board of Trade and EPA Region 7 Science and Technology Center.

Starting at 9 a.m. we’ll tour the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s GIPSA National Grain Center facility and observe some of the laboratory work.

“The National Grain Center is responsible for the nation’s scale calibrations. So, every rural elevator is calibrated back to the Center. They are also responsible for matching our scales to international scales for international trade,” KFU President Donn Teske said. “Their grain lab provides the official U.S. grading standards and national inspection system. They’ve got all kinds of fancy equipment there.”

Following the GIPSA tour, we’ll break for lunch, and then make our way to the Kansas City Board of Trade where we’ll view a short film and tour the trading floor.

CME Group, Inc., the world’s largest futures exchange, agreed on Oct. 17 to buy the Kansas City exchange for $126 million. CME plans to expand futures offerings in wheat on its Chicago trading floor on July 1 after closing the Kansas City Board of Trade.

The last day of open-outcry trading in the Kansas City futures pit is set for June 28. Don’t pass up this opportunity to see trading history as it comes to a close in Kansas City.

We’ll end our trek by visiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 7 Science and Technology Center, also known as the Kansas City Science and Technology Center (KCSTC).

The Center is one of 10 EPA regional laboratories throughout the country that provide monitoring, analytical support, and data assessments.

In the mid-1990s, EPA realized that effective implementation of the Kansas City laboratory’s mission was no longer feasible in its existing location, which it had occupied for 30 years. In deciding to construct and occupy a new laboratory building, EPA incorporated lessons it learned when successfully designing and building its Region 7 headquarters office building in 1999. That project showcased many green features and strategies that could be incorporated in the construction and operation of the regional lab.

More information about the Region 7 green office building project can be found athttp://www.epa.gov/region7/p2/offtheshelf.

Please RSVP by May 31 by emailing kfu.nick@gmail.com or calling (785) 527-0941. At least one tour stop will require us to turn names in ahead of time, and the number in our group will also determine the number of tour guides needed.

NBAF funding bill moves through KS Senate

The Kansas Senate passed to final action a bill that would allow $202 million in bonds for the National Bio and Agro-Defense facility during floor action Tuesday.

President Obama’s budget proposed $714 million in federal funding for the Manhattan, KS facility. That proposal led Gov. Sam Brownback’s office to ask the Legislature to move quickly in bumping up the state’s commitment to lock in the federal funds.

The state has already allocated some $100 million for the project, the total cost of which is estimated at about $1.15 billion, a much higher price tag than what was originally expected by those involved in discussions. Initially, the federal government planned to sell the old facility at Plum Island for $500 million, and the money from the sale would build the facility in Manhattan. However, changes in market conditions after the initial estimate made it impossible to sell the Plum Island facility.

Constructing a building in tornado alley also required changing the design to increase fortification, and thus, doubled the cost for the facility. At that time, it was determined a negotiated agreement between Kansas and the federal government would be necessary to bring this facility to fruition.

The Senate tentatively agreed to the additional $202 million Tuesday and scheduled a final vote for Wednesday. If approved, the House would still have to sign off on the bill, then the State Finance Council would have a say. The Senate bill would prohibit the finance council from selling the new bonds unless the state has in hand a contract with the federal government ensuring that any cost overruns will be paid by the feds.

At the first meeting on April 25, committee members discussed the pros and cons of the cost and placement of the facility in Manhattan. They expressed concern that Kansas will be “on the hook” to pay additional costs in the future to operate the federal facility. There were also concerns for the possibilities of disease escape and the resulting danger to livestock populations and public safety.

Senator Jim Denning (R) Overland Park, expressed his concern that now Kansas is required to help build the facility. He stated that when the project was first introduced, Kansas was only required to furnish the land.

On May 9, a follow-up meeting was held with only a 90 minute notice to committee members and those following the issue. Conferees were allowed to submit testimony, something that is rarely allowed at this point in the legislative session, and the following proponents did so: James Heeter, President and CEO of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; Tracey Osborne, President of Overland Park Chamber of Commerce; Tom Jernigan, DVM, President of Kansas Veterinary Medical Association; Steve Baccus, President of Kansas Farm Bureau; and Mark Harms, President of the Kansas Livestock Association. The only conferee to submit opposition testimony was Brandy Carter, CEO of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association.

In early March, National Farmers Union passed its 2013 policy at its annual convention in Springfield, MA. The policy clearly states: “(We) urge Congress to upgrade the Plum Island Research Facility; however, we oppose constructing a National Bio- and Agro-Defense research facility in any location critical to food production in our nation. That said, if built on the mainland United States, rigorous standards of containment must be developed and the government should assume complete liability should containment not be successful. Funding must be adequate and continuous to meet the rigorous standards of containment. To prevent any bio-security risk, funding for this facility should be exempt from any budgetary cuts.”

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US Senate Agriculture Committee releases draft farm bill, schedules markup

The initial draft of the Senate Agriculture Committee Farm Bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, was released yesterday morning. Preliminary review of the 1,000-page document shows that the bill is very similar to the legislation that passed the full Senate last year. The farm bill goes from 2014-2018.

Download NFU’s detailed summary of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s bill here.

The Committee will meet at 10 am (9am Kansas time) on Tuesday, May 14 to consider the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (the 2013 Farm Bill). For more information, visit ag.senate.gov.

Corporate Agriculture Expansion Stalled in Kansas Legislature

By Nick Levendofsky

One of the hot topics in Topeka that got our attention early on was the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s push to repeal corporate farming laws in Kansas, laws which have worked well for Kansas farmers for over 80 years. The primary goal of these laws has been to protect family farms and ranches from the threats of unfair competition by corporate interests, and all-out repeal of these laws threatens the future of family agriculture across Kansas.

I wrote in the last Kansas Kontact about Senate Bill 191. A few weeks after it had been introduced, just days before bills had to be out of committee, the House of Representatives came up with their own version of the bill. House Bill 2404 was a nearly identical bill to the Senate’s version.

It came from a “blessed” committee, meaning it had special protections granted to it by the Speaker of the House, Ray Merrick, and had to be heard in whatever committee it was referred to. That committee was the House Agriculture Committee, which is chaired by 106th District Representative Sharon Schwartz, (R) Washington. The committee’s calendar did not have the bill listed originally, but it was slipped in at the last minute.

The day after the bill was introduced, the first hearing on the bill was held. After a marathon full House session on the budget, the Agriculture committee convened. They only took testimony from one proponent conferee, Lee Borck, and then adjourned to take up the bill the following day.

That next morning, as the Natural Resources committee was working SB191, Senator Caryn Tyson, (R) Parker, introduced an amendment that would re-instate county option into 191. Chairman Powell, then insisted that all conferees present at the meeting come up and share their thoughts on the issue. The Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Farm Bureau, and the Kansas Pork Association were all adamant that SB191 had to pass with the county option eliminated. Kansas Farm Bureau’s lobbyist was especially passionate in his testimony, saying it was critical the county option not be a part of SB191.

Senator Ralph Ostmeyer, (R) Grinnell then spoke up and said he had received calls from county officials back home asking him what he was doing to their rights, and that he would have to support the county option in SB191. Senator Powell then looked around at his committee, obviously knowing he couldn’t force the bill through without county option, and quickly adjourned the meeting to reconvene the next morning after the full Senate adjourned.

The morning of the vote, Senate Natural Resources Committee stopped working the bill for the rest of this session and referred it to an interim committee that will be appointed later this summer. The House Agriculture Committee referred their bill on to the Kansas Judicial Council, which is made up of a group of lawyers, judges, and elected officials.

This issue is not over, it will come back up next year when the Legislature starts back up, and Kansas Farmers Union will continue to champion the rights of Kansas farmers, ranchers, and their rural communities. We plan to hold informational meetings across the state educating not only our members, but all who have an interest in this issue. For more information, and to follow this issue, please go to www.kansasfarmersunion.org.