TOPEKA — The Kansas Department of Agriculture renewed a bid Thursday to cut out the Legislature from decisions about noxious weeds and vest that authority with an advisory commission controlled by the state’s agriculture secretary.
The secretary of agriculture would determine membership of the 11-member advisory board, assume leadership in establishing rules and regulations concerning selection of noxious weeds and be authorized to issue emergency statewide declarations about invasive plants.
Chad Bontrager, deputy secretary at the agriculture department, said the panel of experts would possess extensive knowledge of weed management and would guide the agriculture department’s improved response to spread of troublesome weeds.
“This advisory committee will also provide for a thorough, scientific and objective evaluation of weeds under consideration,” he said.
State law designates a dozen plants as noxious statewide, but the bill would delay amendment of the list without involvement of the Legislature until 2020. The House bill would strengthen the ability of county departments to enforce noxious weed programs and compel landowners to pay for remediation, Bontrager said.
Criticism of House Bill 2583 during the House Agriculture Committee hearing centered on placement of broad authority in non-elected officials, a belief spraying of agriculture chemicals would intensify and the possibility inspectors would abuse the right to inspect private property for unwanted weeds.
Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said she was apprehensive inspectors would exercise authority to enter properties without notifying the owners.
“They also could get shot, because people are carrying guns these days,” she said.
Paul Johnson, a lobbyist with the Kansas Rural Center and an organic vegetable gardener since 1985 in Jefferson County, said the noxious-weed bill could affect 21 million acres of cropland and 17 million acres of pasture in Kansas.
He said the legislation should promote a balanced approach to weed infestations that included a combination of burning, mowing, crop rotation, intensive grazing and use of herbicides.
“After 20 years of exponential growth in agricultural chemicals, particularly glyphosate, Kansas is really now a spray-first, dispute-chemical-damages-later state,” Johnson said.
He said the bill should include a definition of “chemical drift” to protect landowners and provide a better basis for resolving damage to crops by careless use of pesticides to kill weeds.
Mike Beam, a representative of the Kansas Livestock Association, said concern about reckless expansion of chemical spraying was exaggerated. He said KLA endorsed the bill because the state’s existing process of designating noxious weeds was antiquated.
“There are no guidelines as to what the Legislature should consider when listing a noxious weed,” he said. “It’s merely a political decision.”