By Mary Clarkin - The Hutchinson News - email@example.com A corporate farming bill stalled in a Kansas Senate committee spurred the introduction this week of a mirror-like bill in the Kansas House.
Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, which opposes the legislation, blasted the maneuver. At this point in the session, there are restrictions on filing new bills. But the House Taxation Committee is exempt from the deadline and it introduced House Bill No. 2404 Monday. A hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee was slated for Wednesday afternoon. "If it ain't good enough to stand up to the light of day and they have to force it through the back door, it probably isn't good for the citizens of Kansas," Teske said. Teske also objected to what he considered a fast track for the new legislation. The Legislature will adjourn April 5, then return for wrap-up work in May. Sides formed The Kansas Department of Agriculture promotes the corporate farming amendments, citing economic development benefits. Current law defines various farm business arrangements, stipulating the maximum number of partners or shareholders. It also requires that at least one of the general partners or stockholders reside on the farm or be actively engaged in the operation. Under the proposal, any agricultural business entity would be permitted to operate anywhere in the state, according to the Division of the Budget's analysis. The Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Pork Association and the Kansas Livestock Association joined the Agriculture Department in support of the corporate farming amendments. Besides Kansas Farmers Union, people affiliated with the Kansas Rural Center and Sierra Club in Kansas have objected to the bill. Western Kansans Rep. Sue Boldra, R-Hays, serves on the House panel that will consider the new bill. She withheld her views Wednesday morning, chiefly because she had not had a chance to read the legislation. Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, said he was "not extremely excited to change the bill at this time," but also said he was concerned about how the language would affect Kansas family-owned farms organized as corporations or trusts. Hoffman does not believe corporate farming legislation is being rushed and said it's not unusual for similar bills to be introduced in both chambers. Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, does not sit on the Agriculture panel, but he is familiar with the corporate hog farm debates of the 1990s. He declined to comment on the bill because he had not read it. Counties, farms Last year, the Legislature removed a hurdle for swine production facilities being established in counties. It made it tougher for a countywide vote to occur, by requiring a citizens' protest petition to trigger an election. Under the new corporate farming bill, that election option at the county level would be repealed altogether, according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department. The Kansas Association of Counties reported that fiscally, the bill would have no effect on local governments. It has not taken a position on the corporate farming bill. Teske critically observed that, in his view, the KAC is "in bed" with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. KAC's executive director, Randall Allen, and its legislative services director and general counsel, Melissa Wangemann, reacted to that charge. They said the KAC and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce are on opposite sides on taxation issues: The chamber is trying to eliminate taxes, while the KAC is trying to preserve the tax base, they noted. "We're very often at odds with each other," Wangemann said. Allen said they try to be cordial with the chamber, but they disagree on some issues. The KAC's membership shapes the association's legislative policy statement, they said, and members did not suggest corporate farming as an issue. Teske said it "took a lot of fight" last year to keep county rights in the agriculture statute, and he is riled that it could be stricken. "If this passes, I think I'll go apply for a hog permit in Johnson County and see how Overland Park likes this thing," Teske said. Kansas Legislative Research staff said the pending bills' proposed repeal of county protest procedures for swine farms would not mean counties could not have zoning ordinances regarding land use. Swine, dairy In 2012, when the Legislature voted to lower the hurdle for swine operations, Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, testified for the farm-friendly measure before the House committee. Now, Schwartz is chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. "I believe, from the discussion last year in committee, most people realize the positive economic benefits of these facilities. I truly believe, though, most facilities that would come to Kansas will be dairies and not swine," Rep. Hoffman said in an email Wednesday. When Kansas Farm Bureau board member Richard Felts testified earlier this month before a Kansas Senate committee, he said current corporate farming law restricts his ability to attract and capitalize on potential. Removing hurdles could expand business and in turn attract jobs and residents to rural areas, Felts said. Teske said he is unconvinced.