Topeka — Legislators recommended Wednesday that the state expand its agroterrorism laws to include the intentional exposure of plants to disease.
Rep. Sharon Schwartz, member of the Special Committee on Agriculture, said the state should extend the same protection to crops as it does livestock.
"What we are really looking at is agroterrorism," said Schwartz, R-Washington.
The committee also recommended that it review agroterrorism penalties. Legislators approved a bill at the end of the 2001 session that made it a felony to knowingly infect livestock with disease. The bill targeted the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.
Also, the committee wants to make sure terrorist acts designed to destroy property or release animals to advance a political cause are included as felonies under the agroterrorism law. Similar activities in the United States have included the freeing of mink from farms or burning homes in wilderness developments, without harming humans.
"That's what they (eco-terrorists) say, anyway," said Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Hays.
Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence and chairman of the committee, said plants were a logical extension of the law, given the state's reliance on wheat and corn production.
The committee also voted to encourage two legislative committees to consider constructing a $40 million biosafety research center at Kansas State University that would specialize in agroterrorism issues.
"I think we know we need to do it if we can afford to do it," Schmidt said.
Earlier in the day, the committee heard from state officials about anti-agroterrorism efforts.
Officials have heightened their awareness since the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings that killed thousands in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. They have learned that some of the suspected terrorists may have made inquiries about using crop dusters. Since then, federal officials have grounded the planes on several occasions and increased monitoring of planes and pilots.
Terry Knowles, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said agents had identified 180 aircraft and 130 licensed crop duster pilots in the state.
"This type of information and advance warning network will be helpful to law enforcement and the agriculture industry in identifying potential biological threats to Kansas," Knowles said.
Wednesday's presenters included Jerry Jaax, a Kansas State veterinarian with extensive experience in bioterrorism issues; Kevin Varner, a veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and George Teagarden, director of the Kansas Animal Health Department.
Legislators also recommended a resolution urging Congress and the U.S.D.A. to take a more aggressive attack on Karnal bunt in wheat.
The fungus contaminates wheat fields and makes the grain undesirable for consumption. No fungus has been discovered in Kansas, but state officials have taken steps to increase inspection of grain and harvesting equipment.