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 2016 Legislative & Policy Watch Weekly E-Update

No. 5  February 5, 2016

In This Issue
Open Records & Meetings Bills
Rehab of Abandoned City Property
Ballot Information from Local Govts.
Public School Hearings Set for Feb. 8
Threatened & Endangered Species Act Bill
Local Food Authority Challenged
Federal Policy: Direct Marketing/Local Food Focus of Congressional Hearing
How to Receive Policy Watch
About Policy Watch
About Policy Watch E-Update

The Legislative and Policy Watch Weekly E-Update is a project of the Kansas Rural Center.

In 2015, KRC is partnering with the Kansas Natural Resources Council  and Audubon of Kansas to provide this report to their members.  We thank them for their support and assistance.

Editor: Mary Fund
Paul Johnson, Policy Analyst

Policy Watch Sponsors
  The Kansas Rural Center
promotes the health of the land and its people through research, education and advocacy that advance an ecologically sound, economically viable,  and socially just agriculture. For more information about KRC go to
The Kansas Natural Resource Council (KNRC)
promotes environmentally responsible practices and sustainable natural resource policies to ensure the quality and abundance of these resources for future generations. For more information about our organization and programs, or how to become a member, please visit  To be removed from the KNRC Policy Watch list, please contact  Sharon Ashworth at

Audubon of Kansas (AOK) is a statewide non-profit organization  established to promote appreciation and stewardship of Kansas' natural ecosystems, with special emphasis on conservation of prairies, birds, other wildlife, and habitat.For more information about our organization and our programs, or how to become a member, please visit
 to be removed from the AOK Policy Watch list, please contact Monica Goss at

Kansas Association of Regional Development Organizations, Inc. (KARDO) is a statewide, non-profit organization established to improve the ability of both organizations and individuals engaged in regional planning and development to service the needs of all parts of Kansas in an effective and efficient manner.  For more information about our organization and programs, and to become a member or donate, please visit .  To be removed from the KARDO Policy Watch list, contact John Cyr at .

First Steps to Water Battles In and Out of State
  by Paul Johnson
   The Kansas Legislature has taken the first step to open a water battle with surrounding states by making it easier to appropriate surface water leaving the state. The Senate Natural Resources committee passed out Senate Bill 322 by stuffing SB 322 into House Bill 2509 that passed the House last session. This is fundamental water policy that deserves the widest debate and discussion but stuffing it into a passed House bill can short circuit the debate. The agribusiness forces controlling the water debate apparently hope to abscond with water from downstream states rather than develop a strategic, dynamic, sustainable conservation plan or realistic vision of state agriculture.

   The Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) opposed this bill because the application fees to appropriate millions of gallons of 'surface water that otherwise leaves the state' grossly under-compensates the work required to evaluate such an application. Under the current fee structure, the application to appropriate water from the Missouri River could require a filing fee of up to $1 million depending on the quantity applied. Under HB 2509, the filing fee for four million acre-feet would be $5,600.  While many of us assume the aquaduct idea to take water from the Missouri river is a much too expensive  pipe dream, apparently some are still determined to chase that dream.

   Given the tighter budgets experienced by all state agencies, KDA is struggling to deal with the existing 32,000 water right appropriations and requested water right changes. KDA recommended that first a summit be held with the Missouri River states to collaborate on river management prior to consideration of legislative changes.
The Governor's blue ribbon task force on water economics held its first meeting on January 29. This sixteen member task force is imbalanced with agribusiness proponents. 85% of the water used in Kansas is for crop irrigation. There will be little discussion of assessing a fair fee on the use of irreplaceable irrigation water. Kansas has over three million acres under irrigation.  (On just 77,000 acres, Kansas could produce 100% of the primary fruits and vegetables consumed in the state but today only 4% of the fruits and vegetables consumed by Kansans are grown in Kansas.)

  The conundrum facing Kansas is that while the citizens of Kansas own the water, vested water rights -by statute - has been over appropriated to 11,000 water right holders. These water right appropriations guarantee the decline and draining of the Ogallala aquifer. By law, these water rights are considered property rights and cannot be mandatorily reduced without compensation. That could cost billions of dollars while Kansas' budget is virtually broke.
Noxious Weed Law Update

    The legislative push to increase the number of noxious weeds and expand the use of more toxic chemicals has slowed down for now. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee created a sub-committee to discuss amendments to House Bill 2479. 

   There were several substantive amendments proposed to HB 2479 so the Chairwoman decided a smaller sub-committee could process those amendments and bring an amended bill back to the full committee by February 15.

     The debate may not be over on scrapping existing law - which has the Legislature in charge of putting noxious weeds into statute - and  instead giving this authority in rule and regulation to the Secretary of Agriculture. Amendments would define a 'risk assessment' to list a noxious weed and alter the make-up of the advisory committee that makes recommendations to the Secretary.

Judicial Legislation Bill Voted Down

    A bi-partisan group of Kansas House members voted down  HCR 5005 that would have changed the selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices from the existing voter approved judicial selection committee to selection by the Governor and confirmation by the Kansas Senate. To change the Kansas constitution, it requires a two-thirds vote in the Kansas House (84 members) but only 68 voted in favor. Lawmakers were threatened that a no vote could cost them their seat. 

   Thousands of dollars of 'dark money' will be raised to unseat some House members in the fall elections. The constitutional amendment to establish the judicial selection committee came about in 1958 and has worked well for several decades giving Kansas a highly praised judicial system. Recent rulings on school finance, abortion and the death penalty have riled the most conservative legislators to try to take control of the judicial branch as they have with the executive and legislative branch. 

   Five  of the seven Kansas Supreme Court justices and six of the fourteen Kansas Court of Appeals justices will be up for retention votes this fall. More 'dark money' will be spent to smear and try to unseat these justices.

  Open Records and Open Meetings Bills
   Senate Bill 361 proposes to amend the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) to apply it to otherwise public records on the private email accounts of state employees. Communications technology has evolved faster than the law. KORA no longer works today when public employees might use private email accounts to do their public jobs. The Legislature needs to amend KORA to apply its original purpose of openness in government records to modern communications realities. 

   Under existing KORA law, the Governor's budget director sent copies of the proposed 2016 budget via private emails to individuals, state employees and lobbyists. These private emails do not qualify as 'public records'. The Senate Judiciary committee held a hearing on SB 361 and requested all proponents to settle on acceptable language. This bill will move forward.

   Senate Bill 360 would clarify conditions under which public bodies and agencies may move from an open meeting to an executive session. Existing law - that addresses closed or executive meetings - calls for a statement of the justification for closing a meeting, the subjects to be discussed, and the time and place at which the open meeting shall resume.

    'Justification' and 'subjects' are undefined resulting in confusion. In Dr. Alan Cowles' excellent study of the 10 largest cities and 10 largest counties in Kansas, he has shown that almost all of these governmental bodies conduct some of their business without disclosing any meaningful information about the subjects and issues they were to discuss. 88% of closed sessions were conducted without giving the public any meaningful information about the subjects and issues they were to discuss. In contrast, the Manhattan City Commission showed that it didn't have to conduct any governmental business in secrecy. The Senate Judiciary committee held a hearing on SB 360 and requested all parties find common ground to help move this bill forward.
Rehabilitation of Abandoned City Property

   Senate Bill 338 gives cities a quicker response option to save abandoned houses and maintain the value, aesthetics and safety of neighborhoods. These houses become abandoned for many reasons, including owners passing away without heirs, out-of-state landlords difficult to track down, bankruptcy, pending foreclosure actions, owners simply moving away and lenders who refuse to foreclose on properties. Under current law, the only recourse is to wait for three years of unpaid property taxes and foreclose on the property. After three years of abandonment, most houses would be virtually uninhabitable and beyond repair. SB 338 would change current law regarding abandoned property and revise the definition of 'blighting influence'.

   This issue has been debated at the Capitol for the last five years. The city will have to go before a district court to start this process and prove a house has been unoccupied continuously for 365 days. The last known property owners and/or interest owners are accorded due process and are allowed at all times to appear before the district court. SB 338 would give cities the same ability to deal with abandoned and blighted real estate as they now have when dealing with dangerous structures. For example, Wyandotte County has an estimated 7,000 abandoned houses with code violations and vacant lots which are creating blight and depressing home values for neighbors. Wichita has an estimated 17,600 vacant properties. The goal of SB 338 is to save these homes and return them to the market as properties which can again be lived in thus helping citizens, neighborhoods and the city at-large. SB 338 should be worked in the Senate Commerce committee next week.

Ballot Question Information from Local Governments & School Boards
    Senate Bill 368 - requested by the Secretary of State - would prohibit local governments and school boards from providing information - not campaign advocacy -about important ballot questions affecting the public. SB 368 prohibits government funds to distribute any brochure, flier, political fact sheet or other document regarding a ballot measure. 

   This prohibition is arguably unconstitutional given the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United  v. FEC that specifies the First Amendment's general prohibition against suppressing 'political speech based on the speaker's identity'. Further, Citizens United, clarified that limiting a corporation's capacity to spend money effectively limits the ability of its members to speak on political issues. The hearing on SB 368 was held before the Senate Ethics and Elections committee last Thursday. This bill raised many questions so its future is uncertain. 
Public School Legislation Hearings Scheduled Feb.8

   On Monday - February 8 - at 1:30 PM in Room 112-N, House Education committee will discuss and have possible action on
HB 2486 and  HB 2457. 

   HB 2486 creates the school district bond review board. HB 2486 would restore a state aid program to assist lower wealth districts at a much lower rate than the previous law. State aid would be limited to the percentage of the building utilized for direct instruction - but direct instruction is not defined. Portions of the buildings for counselors, libraries, lunchrooms, and possibly auditoriums would be excluded from state aid.

    HB 2457 expands the tax credit for low income student scholarships attending private schools. Private schools are not required to provide any means of public accountability for student learning or success. This bill directs state funding to schools that are not required to admit all students or use a random process of admission. The annual cost of this bill increases from $10 million to $12.5 million at a time of revenue uncertainty to the State.  
Threatened & Endangered Species Bill Heard
    The Kansas Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1975 is under attack again in the Kansas Legislature.   A hearing was held last week on SB 384, Amending provisions of the nongame and endangered species conservation act ,"  which will make it "difficult at best,   generally impractical and possibly impossible, for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) to include threatened or endangered species on the state threatened and endangered list, establish critical habitat, or protect the species listed and their critical habitat." 

 "The bill adds a list of provisions that the Act "shall not apply to," including development of commercial and private property, any activity involving a requirement for a permit from any other state or federal agency (even if publically funded), etc.  Basically it only retains authority over the "intentional taking of a threatened...or an endangered species."  Establishing "intent" in the destruction of critical habitat or even actions resulting directly in the killing of a protected species is difficult to establish."

   The bill was introduced in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which means it is not subject to the legislative deadlines for most committee bills. It can be attached to other bills to keep it moving through the process. 
     --  Taken from Audubon of Kansas' alert on SB 384 by Ron Klataske
Authority Over Local Food Challenged

    HB 2595 calls for the restriction of local efforts (any government entity or entity receiving public funds)  to address making the healthy choice the easy choice in settings such as restaurants, retail food establishments and vending machines. It flies in the face of efforts to encourage adoption of healthy eating habits and promotion of healthy food, and could hamper the efforts of the recent surge in local food policy councils around the state.

    HB 2595 has been scheduled for a hearing in the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday,  February 10th at 1:30 in Room 346-S (Old Supreme Court Chamber). 

Federal Farm and Food Policy
Direct Marketing/Local Food Focus of House Ag Committee Hearing
Feb. 3, 2016 From National Sustainab
le Agriculture Coalition
    Farmers, ranchers, and advocates from across the country gathered yesterday, February 2, 2016, to speak with members of the House Agriculture Committee's  Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research about their experiences in direct farmer to consumer marketing, farm to institution marketing, and other local food strategies. The subcommittee convened six expert witnesses, with support from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and the  Farmers Market Coalition, to provide insight on the benefits of and challenges to direct and intermediated market operations-one of the fastest growing sectors in agriculture today.  Subcommittee Chairman   Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL-13)   set the tone for the hearing by emphasizing the important role direct marketing has come to have in agriculture and the increased need for Congress to caucus with farmers, ranchers, and producers who are engaging in direct marketing activities....   
Read more Here.
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Kansas Legislature Website
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