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 2016 Legislative & Policy Watch Weekly E-Update

No. 9  March 5, 2016

In This Issue
Noxious Weed Bill Moving Forward
Legislative Hearings Week of March 7-11
Water, Energy, Land & Food Forum March 17
Federal News: GMO Labeling Bill Heats Up
Federal News: Fate of Food & Ag Programs in 2017 Decided in Appropriations
Federal News: Tomorrow's Table: Rise of Local & Regional Food Economies
Federal News: Do FDA's New Rules Apply to YOur Farm or Business?
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
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
knrc.weebly.com  To be removed from the KNRC Policy Watch list, please contact  Sharon Ashworth at sharon.knrc@gmail.com.


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 .


Revenue Challenges Deepen
                                           
  by Paul Johnson
   
The revenue picture for Kansas continues to deteriorate, falling another $50 million in February. Even with the lower estimated revenue projections from last November by the consensus revenue experts, income tax collections were $41 million (2.9%) down from November to February and sales tax was off $26 million (1.7%), and severance taxes off $4 million.

Uncertainty grows over where the revenue bottom may be. The Governor is adamant that his job is to manage spending and not raise taxes even though the State budget has witnessed seven years of necessary and arbitrary budget cuts. Realistically there is no way to raise any taxes fast enough to balance the 2016 Fiscal Year budget that ends on June 30. With this 'election year' Legislature, political courage to confront this growing revenue crisis for 2017 and beyond does not exist.

The budgetary damage for this fiscal year is probably not over. The Governor ordered a $17 million budget reduction (3%) to the Regent's universities for the final four months of this fiscal year. With this reduction to the Regents and the lower revenues in February, the State budget is now $30 million in the red that must be corrected by June 30. The Governor has the authority to withhold close to $100 million in KPERS payments this final quarter but must repay that $100 million by September 30 with 8% interest.

The Governor has special authority to make targeted allotments to state programs and public education to balance the 2016 budget as he did with the Regents. What remains uncertain is the timing of the Kansas Supreme Court's order to fix the inequity in the school funding block grant that started in 2016 and continues into 2017. Must the Legislature fix this inequity for 2016 or does the order apply just to the block grant for 2017? The cost to fix the inequity for 2016 would be around $78 million. Plaintiffs in the school funding suit will need to petition the Court to clarify the timing of the payments and the exact amounts. Meanwhile there are certain budgetary tricks such as delaying Medicaid payments or school funding payments from June into July - the 2017 Fiscal Year - to patch the 2016 budget.

The 2017 budget is another matter. Unless there is a miraculous increase in revenues, the one-time budget tricks of spending down most ending balances such as the State Water Plan and withholding payments to KPERS are over.  Further budget reductions will be ordered.
The Governor has the allotment authority to reduce the school funding block grant in 2017. Since K-12 school funding comprises 50% of the State budget, no reduction to the block grant would double the cuts to all other state programs. 20% of the State budget is social services with the vast majority being Medicaid (KanCare). The three private managed care organizations (MCO's) that administer KanCare have lost millions over the past three years, so reductions to their contracts could further decimate the quality of health care to over 400,000 Kansans.

15% of the State budget goes to the Regent's universities and they should expect further reductions which may force the consolidation of some community colleges and the narrowing of courses offered at the universities.
 The final 15% funds the rest of State government from the state mental hospitals to the state prisons to public safety to public health to natural resource programs and management. 
With the vast majority of these budgets spent on personnel and thousands of state employee positions already eliminated, the functioning of these vital public and social services will be put in further jeopardy. The Highway Fund is the only major fund that can be tapped for a transfer to the State General Fund but now the Legislature is attempting to limit further transfers by the Governor. 

This self-inflicted revenue mess in Kansas is real and has real consequences for all Kansans. Kansans can vote a change!
 
Former State Budget Director Judges State Economic Experiment

    If you missed 
former State Budget Director Duane Goossen's commentary on the deepening state budget crisis, you can listen to it on Kansas Public Radio by clicking  Here    
"Former State Budget Director Judges State Economic Experiment".
    
How to Contact Your Legislator

Kansas House of Representatives,
 Click Here

For House  Committees, 
    Click  Here

Kansas Senate
   Click  Here
             
For Senate Committees, 
     Click  Here


  Noxious Weed Bill Moving Forward - 
     Senate Hearings Next Week
     
House Bill 2479 passed the Kansas House 85 to 39 and is now scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Natural Resources committee on Wednesday March 9 at 8:30 am in Room 159-S. For now, this most important bill is only scheduled for a one day - one hour hearing. If past practices are followed by the Committee Chair, the proponents will be given unlimited time to make their presentations and answer all committee questions. Usually there is very little if any time left for the opponents, so citizens have to drive back to Topeka and take another day off work to participate in this public process. 

If you want to testify, you need to contact the Committee Assistant - Toni Beck (at 785-296-7694) - on or by Monday, March 7. Through members on the Senate Committee, we have requested  that Wednesday be for the proponents and  a second day on Thursday for the opponents. Written testimony can also be very helpful especially if you can document the potential economic harm by chemical drift onto specialty crops and organic crops.

House Bill 2479 is fundamental change. It transfers the listing of noxious weeds from statute controlled by the Legislature to a rule and regulation process controlled by an unelected Kansas Secretary of Agriculture with the advice of a hand-picked advisory committee. This bill does not need to alter the balance of power so fundamentally.

The existing noxious weed law - around since the 1930's - could be amended to establish a 'noxious weed advisory committee' and give the Secretary of Agriculture limited emergency powers to list new noxious weeds for a time but bring that decision to the Kansas Legislature for listing in statute. There is now no legal right for a landowner to post their land as a 'no spray' zone (if noxious weeds are controlled) and pursue damages without great legal cost to the landowner. There is no definition of 'drift' in existing law or in HB 2479.

As the toxicity of the chemicals used -such as 2-4D - increases, and such chemicals can an do  drift beyond their application site, we should be concerned for non-target plants and crops.  County weed departments appear to be legally protected from damages as they spray the ditches and right-of-ways. There is no guidance in HB 2479 to define 'best practices' to consider mechanical or biological control first before resorting to chemical controls, and  no guidance that the least toxic chemicals should be used first. There is now some language - in defining the 'risk assessment' used by the Secretary of Agriculture - that consideration should be given to the impact on both 'natural and agricultural environment'. This should be stronger!
  
Legislative Hearings Week of March 7-11

Senate Bill 367 - a major revision of the juvenile justice system that passed the Kansas Senate 38 to 2 - will be heard before the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice committee all week at 1:30 pm in Room 152-S. Proponents will be heard Monday (March 7) and Tuesday (March 8) while opponents will be heard Wednesday (March 9). The committee is scheduled to work the bill on Thursday (March 10) and possibly Friday (March 11). To offer written or oral testimony, you need to contact the Committee Assistant - Linda Kentech at 785-296-7690 by Monday. Here is the web page for background on this 110 page bill. Look at the top SN:    http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2015_16/measures/sb367/ 

House Bill 2486 creates the school district bond project review board. Hearings have already been held so the House Education committee on Tuesday (March 8) at 1:30 pm in Room 112-N will discuss and possibly act on the bill. HB 2486 limits the financial exposure by the State in sharing in funding school district bond projects.

Senate Bill 318 eliminates the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority that served as a planning entity for expanding the electric grid to accommodate moving wind power from Kansas to other parts of the country. SB 318 also stops any work by the Kansas Corporation Commission and the Kansas Department of Health & Environment to develop a Kansas plan for EPA's Clean Power Plan while court injunctions proceed. SB 318 has already had hearings before the House Energy and Environment committee so on Wednesday (March 9) at 9:00 am in Room 582-N the committee will discuss and take action on the bill.

Senate Bill 334 requires notice to the Attorney General before any Kansas court determines that a statute or constitutional provision is invalid or unconstitutional.

Senate Bill 361 deals with defining public agencies and public records in regards to the open records act. These two bills will be heard before the House Judiciary committee on Wednesday (March 9) at 3:30 pm in Room 112-N. To testify, contact the Committee Assistant - Connie Bahner at 785-296-5805 by Tuesday.

Senate Bill 316 places a hard property tax lid on local units of government and moves the effective date from 2017 to 2016. The Senate Assessment and Taxation committee will hear proponents on Tuesday (March 8) and opponents on Wednesday (March 9) at 9:30 am in Room 548-S. To testify, contact the Committee Assistant - Judy Seitz at 785-296-2713 by Monday.

Senate Bill 463 eliminates several special revenue funds such as the children's initiative fund directs such funds into the state general fund (SGF). The bill also details the duties of the Kansas children's cabinet. This bill will be heard before the Senate Ways & Means committee on Tuesday (March 8) at 10:30 am in Room 548-S.

Senate Bill 311 transfers the administration of school finance from the state board of education to the department of administration. This bill will be heard before Senate Ways & Means on Thursday (March 10). To testify on either bill, contact the Committee Assistant - Dee Heideman at 785-296-3775 a day before the hearing.   
 

 
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  


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.
 Federal Farm and Food News:
   GMO Labeling Bill Heats Up in the Senate
    
    From National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
        March 2, 2016
  
The debate over genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified (GMO) food labeling has been fiercely contested for years. While many large corporations have staunchly resisted demands from "right to know" groups, others, like the Campbell Soup Company
, have sided with consumer advocacy groups and voluntarily decided to label their products. The right to know debate has been heating up on the Hill, and as new bills hit the floor we can anticipate things may come to a boil soon.   
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) is now trying to engineer the passage of controversial legislation which would pre-empt Vermont's mandatory labeling of GE food and farm products and establish a process for creating a national standard for voluntary labeling.
Read more Here.

Federal Farm and Food News:
Fate of Food and Agriculture Programs in 2017 Will be Decided in Appropriations

From National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)  March 1, 2016

  Each year, Congress uses the annual appropriations process to decide funding levels and make certain policy decisions for federal programs. Food and agriculture programs, of course, are no exception. This spring, the appropriations committees in the House and Senate will make critical funding decisions on rural development, nutrition, research, conservation, and many other programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Following the release of   USDA's funding requests for fiscal year 2017 (FY17), the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate hold a series of hearings to examine the requested funds and their suggested purposes. At the time of this posting the Senate Subcommittee has yet to begin hearings; however, the House Subcommittee has already begun their process and held several meetings to discuss the USDA's requests.
Last week, several food and agriculture agencies came before the House Subcommittee to defend their programs and budgetary proposals, including: the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Following is a summary of the aforementioned hearings:
Read more  Here.

Federal Farm and Food News
  Tomorrow's Table: The Rise of Local and Regional Food Economies
    From National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)    Feb. 23, 2016
 
Commodification is on the rise in many sectors of the American economy, but lately many consumers have been bucking that trend when it comes to their food. Increasingly Americans are interested in food that is not only good for them, but also in food that is grown sustainably, by local and regional farmer and ranchers. Thanks to the efforts of local and regional farmers and ranchers, good food advocates, and Secretary Tom Vilsack and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), sustainable agriculture is experiencing a nationwide surge via growth in local and regional food systems. That growth in turn is linked, in part, to the interests of young and beginning farmers.

This agricultural sea change was recently the subject of a two-day summit, hosted by the USDA and the White House Rural Council on February 17-18. The summit, aptly titled, "Tomorrow's Table", celebrated the nation's renewed interest in local and regional food and discussed what the government could do to support local and regional food farmers, ranchers and businesses going forward, including new and beginning farmers and organic agriculture.  Read more Here.

Federal Farm and Food News;
  Do FDA's New Rules Apply to Your Farm or Business?
  From National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Feb. 22, 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently finalized two new food safety rules, the   Preventive Controls Rule  and the  Produce Safety Rule, under the   Food Safety Modernization Act  (FSMA). These rules establish new requirements for farms and food businesses, with different levels of compliance based on operation type and size. In order to help farmers and food businesses navigate the new federal food safety requirements, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released an updated version of our   "Am I Affected?" FSMA flowchart.   Read more  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. 

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About Policy Watch
The Kansas Rural Center
4021 SW 10th Ave. #337
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