Ag issues top session update

State lawmakers and a representative from Sen. Roger Marshall's office attended a Spring Legislative Update sponsored by Allen County Farm Bureau Saturday at Iola Public Library.

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March 25, 2024 - 1:43 PM

Kansas Farm Bureau’s John Kennedy, from left, Iola veterinarian Darrel Monfort and Rep. Fred Gardner visit during a Spring Legislative Update hosted by Allen County Farm Bureau Saturday at the Iola Public Library. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

With one year of experience behind him, Rep. Fred Gardner, R-Garnett, is enjoying his time in Topeka. 

Gardner, a retired veterinarian, was in his element Saturday morning at a Spring Legislative Update sponsored by Allen County Farm Bureau at the Iola Public Library. Gardner serves on the Kansas House’s agriculture committee and took advantage of Saturday’s forum to talk shop with farmers, ranchers and others interested in topics being debated at the statehouse. He was joined by Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, and a representative from U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall’s office, who each talked about legislative priorities.

“My family’s been involved in production agriculture in Kansas since 1870 so I really like to talk about agriculture. Let me run through things we got done this session and a few we made sure didn’t happen,” Gardner said. “Sometimes the most important thing we do is make sure things don’t happen that aren’t helpful to farmers.”

Gardner outlined several bills under consideration, such as regulation of pesticide applications and potential fines for individuals or companies that violate EPA guidelines. He also wants to allow farmers to use the “barter system” for pesticide application, so neighbors can help each other control noxious weeds on smaller acreage plots. 

But it was his folksy approach to talking about the issues that proved a hit with the audience of about 20.

“The other bill we passed —  and oh boy, this is going to put you to sleep in a hurry — is the poultry improvement bill. Who wants to talk about chicken diseases on a Saturday morning?” Gardner joked. 

It’s an important topic, though, he stressed. Gardner offered a short history lesson, noting the challenges scientists faced more than 100 years ago as they tried to improve poultry production. Chickens were susceptible to certain types of diseases and it took decades of testing to eliminate animals that carried the disease. As a result of those regulations, certain poultry diseases have nearly been eradicated. That program needed a funding change to remain sustainable. 

Gardner briefly addressed the matter of foreign ownership of agricultural property. It’s not as simple as it sounds, he said. Some lawmakers have security concerns about allowing certain countries such as China to own farmland, but only a small percentage of land is owned by foreign entities and lawmakers don’t want to negatively impact those with dual citizenship or other situations. 

He also talked about the challenges that come with allowing owners to repair their equipment. Modern farm equipment is computerized and modifications can make equipment more dangerous or difficult to resell. 

Sen. Caryn Tyson speaks at a Spring Legislative Update hosted by Allen County Farm Bureau Saturday at the Iola Public Library.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

TYSON focused her attention on tax reform proposals.

Specifically, she talked about Republican-led efforts to pass a single-rate tax plan. Kansas lawmakers passed a 5.75% flat tax plan earlier in the session but couldn’t override a veto by Gov. Laura Kelly. Senators worked to offer a new plan that would gradually lower a single-tax rate, only to learn the House introduced its own new two-rate plan days later.

“We were very diligent and meticulous to put this bill together,” Tyson said. “We listened to the governor’s arguments. We listen to our constituents and other legislators. It was fiscally responsible. … And instead of working the Senate bill, the House rushed their bill through.”

Even though she was disappointed in the turn of events, Tyson said she is optimistic lawmakers will come together on tax reform.

“Tax is probably the No. 1 issue in Topeka right now. Everyone says they want a tax cut, but we need to stand together and get that policy. We’ll see what happens next week,” she said. 

Both Tyson and Gardner briefy addressed Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers last week offered their first hearings on Medicaid expansion in four years but ultimately it appears a proposal from Kelly isn’t likely to move forward. Both Tyson and Gardner said they are opposed to the plan. Tyson argued Medicaid expansion would not save rural hospitals that are struggling financially, as advocates argue.

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