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 2016 Legislative & Policy Watch Weekly E-Update

No. 8  February 26, 2016

In This Issue
Noxious Weed Law Passes House
Sales Tax on Food Change Considered
Bill Potnetially Impacting Local Food System To Be Heard
Water, Energy, Land & Food Forum March 17
Sen. Roberts Introduces Voluntary GMO Labeling Law
How to Receive Policy Watch
About Policy Watch

About Policy Watch E-Updates


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,Audubon of Kansas, and Ks. Association of Regional Development Organizations to provide this report to their members.  We thank them for their support and assistance.

Editor: Mary Fund
Paul Johnson, Policy Analyst

To Support 
Policy Watch

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
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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
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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 http://www.audubonofkansas.org
 to be removed from the AOK Policy Watch list, please contact Monica Goss at monica.goss@audubonofkansas.org


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 http://kardo.ncrpc.org .  To be removed from the KARDO Policy Watch list, contact John Cyr at jcyr@nckcn.com .



Governing Blackholes
                                           
  by Paul Johnson
   
       While the political and economic challenges to Kansas continue to mount, the Kansas Legislature dithers. While the revenue picture continues to darken, no substantive debate is allowed by legislative leadership. While thousands of low-income working Kansans go without basic health care and the plight of rural hospitals grows more precarious, debate on Medicaid expansion is blocked at every turn. While the future of funding public education is stalled and the Kansas Supreme Court is ordering an equity fix to the block grant, the debate on fixing public education is shoved off to next year. What isn't put off or delayed in the Capitol are the endless free lunches.

    When the Governor was elected, he initiated passing two-year budgets - a first for Kansas. So last year a two-year budget was passed for 2016 and 2017 that begins July 1, 2016. 

    Ideally this would free up the budget committees in the House and the budget sub-committees in the Senate to have the time to drill more deeply into the departments and programs of State government. There would be time to ask if the programs were adequately staffed and what were the challenges to administering the programs? Does Kansas have enough workers at the state mental hospitals to ensure staff safety and care properly for troubled patients? Why is the Highway Patrol having such difficult times in recruiting new patrol officers? With a record number of children in Kansas' privatized foster care system, what are the causes and remedies? 

   In fact most of these budget committees have taken this session off with very few meetings. Benign neglect seems to be the path chosen in an election year to avoid any controversy.

      In the past, the Governor and legislative leaders would hold weekly press briefings - usually on Friday - to answer questions on key issues. With this Governor and the conservative leaders in the Legislature, there are no regular press conferences. The tone under the dome is now one of intimidation. There is no middle ground or acceptance of compromise. The party line is very clear for Republicans. Cross that rigid party line and expect a challenger in the primary. Expect that certain political action committees will recruit an opponent, design the negative post cards and flood the district with multiple mailings and media advertisements. 'Dark money' seems unlimited to buy a House seat for $15,000 or a Senate seat for $40,000 this fall.
 
    The income tax breaks in the tens of millions for the wealthiest Kansans have already been secured so political contributions in the hundreds of thousands are seen as a good investment.

     With such a black hole of political debate by the Republican leadership, there would be the opportunity for the leadership of the minority party - the Democrats - to frame a governing agenda. Unfortunately, the Democrats refuse to identify priorities and offer some solutions to the vexing problems facing Kansas.

    The operative political logic is to let the Republicans stew in their misguided tax and budget mistakes. Let the Republicans fix this mess with more budget cuts to vital services and a more regressive tax system while the Democrats sit on the sideline praying for electoral victories. This path of political depression and cynicism will only turn off more voters. There needs to be a rallying call for a fairer tax plan, a vibrant public education system, a dynamic statewide health care model, energy conservation programs, a locally-sourced food system plan, and investments in improving the infrastructure for transportation and public safety.
________________

Related Reading:
'If You Aren't Worried About the Future of Kansas, Here's Some Reasons to Start" Editorial Board, KC Star Feb. 5, 2016,   Click  Here.

Judicial Administration

    The future of funding the Kansas court system is in question. After the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that administration of the court system is constitutionally bestowed to the Kansas Supreme Court, the Kansas Legislature is clarifying this truth in 
Senate Bill 440 that passed the Kansas Senate 28 to 9. The Kansas Supreme Court will clearly have the final say over administering and setting policy for the district courts across Kansas. Now the question of funding arises. Right now the court system has a budget of $125 million. $97 million comes from the State General Fund while $24 million comes various docket/filing fees and $4 million is grant funded.

     Senate Bill 454 is a trailer bill stating that the Supreme Court shall determine the amount of any docket fees to be charged and collected by the court system and may prescribe additional fees and costs to be charged. These additional fees and charges would fund the costs of non-judicial personnel. As the Kansas' budget crisis continues on, will the Supreme Court be forced to increase docket fees and additional fees to avoid furloughs and closing courts on certain days? How will access to the judicial system be impacted by ever increasing filing or docket fees? What is the proper balance of state funding and court fees?

    Without a hearing or other action taken, Senate Bill 439 - regarding grounds for impeachment - was slipped into Senate Bill 440 and sent to the Senate floor for debate. On the Senate floor, an amendment was approved to pull SB 439 from SB 440 with the promise that committee hearings will be held on SB 439 early in March.

     Grounds for impeachment would be expanded from treason, bribery and breach of judicial ethics to include attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power plus attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch. Committee hearings may help clarify the exact meaning of these last two grounds for impeachment. Clearly this is intended to intimidate and punish the Supreme Court for certain rulings on school funding cases or abortion procedures. This debate will set the stage for very contentious judicial retention elections that will happen this fall for five of the seven Supreme Court justices and seven of the fourteen Court of Appeals justices. 
___________________

Related Reading
"The Political War on the Kansas Supreme Court" by Lincoln Caplan, The New Yorker, Feb. 5, 2015 . Click  Here.
 
  Noxious Weed Law Passes House
   
      
House Bill 2479 has now passed the Kansas House 85 to 39. This bill authorizes the Kansas Secretary of Agriculture to adopt rules and regulations declaring which weeds of the State are to be considered noxious. Once declared noxious, they would be considered to be noxious in every county. A 13 member 'noxious weed advisory committee' is created and the Secretary could not declare any weed to be noxious without a recommendation from this committee, except under new emergency declaration authority granted to the Secretary in this bill. The Board of County Commissioners, with approval of the Secretary, could list additional noxious weeds to be controlled in that county.

    There is no legal right for a landowner to post their land as a 'no-spray' zone if noxious weeds are controlled on that land. Kansas now has 37 certified wineries and they have no legal right to 'drift' protection especially by county weed departments. 'Drift' is not defined in this bill. County and state officials have the legal right to enter any private property looking for noxious weeds. There is no definition for 'the best and most practical methods for noxious weed control and eradication'. The fine for noncompliance is increased to $200 a day with a maximum of $2500. County commissioners are allowed to develop their own repayment plans of the costs for treating noxious weeds and placing a property tax lien on the private land for repayment. The bill was amended to add two more to the advisory committee but these are slots appointed by the Kansas Biological Survey and the Kansas Pest Control Association-- no representation for those with concerns about over-zealous use of chemical controls or organic certification, or sensitive specialty crops production.

    The risk assessment by the advisory committee should be science-based and consider the impact on the natural and agricultural environment, the invasiveness of the species under consideration, and the potential for infestation. If passed, this bill transfers authority over noxious weeds from the legislative branch to the executive branch. If the Legislature disagrees with the rules and regulations from the Secretary, it would take new legislation to change those rules and regulations. Senate Agriculture committee hearings will probably be held by mid-March.

Sales Tax On Food Change Considered
Currently, there have been two bills filed to address sales tax on food in Kansas:
  •  House Bill 2444, by Rep. Mark Hutton.  This bill would drop the sales tax on groceries to 2.6 percent while ending the income tax exemption on some 330,000 businesses.
  •  A constitutional amendment, SCR 1612, by Senator Tom Holland.  The amendment would reduce the state tax to 4 percent beginning in July 2017, then to 2 percent in 2018 and to zero by July 2019.
More information on each bill can be found by viewing KC Healthy Kids   recent press release   regarding SCR 1612.
What can you do?  KC Healthy Kids invites Kansans to   come to the Capitol next Wednesday, March 2nd ,    and advocate for the elimination of sales tax on food!   KC Healthy Kids is happy to help provide you with talking points, as well as make appointments for you with your elected officials.  Contact Ashley Jones at ajwisner@kchealthykids.org  for questions about the day.  

 
Bill Potentially Impacting Local Food System and Access Efforts to be Heard
 
HB 2595  will likely be heard by the entire House of Representatives sometime next week.  
This bill could potentially nullify some existing local food system and access efforts.  Advocates have expressed concerns the bill could preempt the ability of their local city and county governments and other public entities to implement current initiatives such as:
  • Community gardens on public land,
  • Land banks that impact food access,
  • Farmers markets on public properties with any food sales restrictions,
  • Publically-funded SNAP double-up programs,
  • Nutrition guidelines for Parks and Recreation or other public space, and
  • School concessions nutrition guidelines
A copy of the bill and it's current amendments can be found following the link below. 

The original bill preempts local efforts to address food based disparities and to make the healthy choice the easy choice in settings such as restaurants, retail food establishments and vending machines.  There is concern the bill in its current state could also negatively affect momentum around local food systems development.      
 
Water, Energy, Land and Food Forum 
     at the Capitol March 17

Join KRC along with partners and people from all over Kansas  March 17th  when we will gather at the Kansas State House to learn about and advocate for water, energy, land, & food policy in Kansas. 
 
The Legislative Day will begin at 10 a.m.   There will be a Climate Prayer vigil from 9 to 10 a.m. that everyone is welcome to attend.
 
The agenda for the day includes the following:  
  • 10:00-11:30   Advocacy Overview (Visitor's Center Auditorium)
  • 10:00-4:00     Solutions Showcase (1st Floor Rotunda)  
  • 11:30-1:00     Speakers & Local Foods Lunch (1st Floor Rotunda, North Wing)
  • 2:00-3:00       Cookies & Conservation Conversation (1st Floor Rotunda)
  • 1:00 - 4:00     Meetings with legislators 
Please RSVP if you plan to join for lunch:   http://tinyurl.com/WELF2016  


 Federal Farm and Food News
Sen. Roberts and Volunteer GMO Labeling Bill

   On February 19, Sen. Pat Roberts, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced a bill which would establish a voluntary federal standard for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO's). The bill would also prohibit state GMO labeling laws.  Vermont, Connecticut and Maine are the only states that have passed mandatory labeling,  although multiple states  have introduced such laws.  Vermont's is set to go into effect July 1, 2016. This bill replaces  a similar bill  introduced last year by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Ks., dubbed  by GMO labeling supporters as the "Dark Act" -- Deny Americans the Right to Know .   The Senate Agriculture Committee is set for mark-up of the bill on March 1.  

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), who dumped $11 million into defeating a Washington state GMO labeling bill,  and multiple agricultural groups, praised the bill insisting that it would prevent a patchwork of confusing state laws. Opponents argue that  a voluntary law is not enough,  and that many companies are already complying with GMO labeling laws in other countries and an increasing number are volunteering here at home. Opponents argue that while the bill purports to protect consumers, the voluntary nature of it will actually slow or hamper labeling efforts, and thus result in less consumer knowledge.

Expressing your views to Senator Roberts office can be done by emailing him at:
or calling:
Washington D.C  202-224-4774;
Topeka Office 785-295-2745
Wichita office 316-263-0416

See the below link for a story from Harvest Public Media 2/23/16


Kansas Legislature Website
  While we will provide information on calendars and upcoming hearings on some bills and issues, this information on committees, weekly calendars and schedules, bills, etc.  is directly available at the website below:

http://www.kslegislature.org/li/

The calendar of deadlines for the session  can also be found here.
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In 2016, KRC is partnering with the Kansas Natural Resource Council , 
Audubon of Kansas, and Kansas Association of Regional Development Organizations (KARDO) to send Policy Watch to their members. We thank them for their support. 

 If you are receiving Policy Watch because you are an AOK member, to be removed you need to contact Monica Goss at monica.goss@audubonofkansas.org.  To be removed as a KNRC member, contact Sharon Ashworth at sharon.knrc@gmail.com. To be removed as a KARDO member, you need to contact John Cyr at  jcyr@nckcn.com 

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About Policy Watch
The Kansas Rural Center
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Topeka, Ks. 66604

866-579-5469
www.kansasruralcenter.org
 
   If you have any questions about Policy Watch, contact Mary Fund, editor at mfund@kansasruralcenter.org, or contact Paul Johnson at pdjohnson@centurylink.net

 

   To learn more about the Kansas Rural Center, please visit our website at