ELK FALLS Months after vetoing legislation to shield operators of farm tourism operations from personal injury lawsuits, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius told ranchers she has been helping draft a more "workable" agri-tourism bill for the next session.
Sebelius made the statement at Kansas Farm Bureau's annual governor's farm tour Thursday in Ellis County. This year's event was focused on getting Sebelius to meet farm families who have turned to agri-tourism and value-added enterprises to supplement traditional agriculture.
In April, the governor vetoed a measure that would have denied paying customers the right to sue property owners if they were injured while participating in such farming and ranching activities as picking crops and riding horses. Owners of private property already have immunity from lawsuits over injuries suffered by paying visitors while hunting, camping and fishing.
"We have been meeting with representatives of the Farm Bureau and others on ways that we can structure a bill to promote agri-tourism and create an appropriate safety net for citizens and visitors who would take advantage of those opportunities and not have the liability issue be a barrier to farmers and ranchers opening operations," Sebelius said.
The governor said she was confident a compromise bill would have widespread support in the Legislature.
Kansas Farm Bureau president Steve Baccus said that while the focus of this year's tour used the term agri-tourism, the issue was much broader -- encompassing value-added operations and rural economic development.
"We would like to see tax credits, something like that in play," he said.
More than 200 people, including 18 legislators, attended this year's tour.
At the ranch of Carl and Donna Coonrod, the governor listened as Carl Coonrod talked about how he started supplementing his cattle business three years ago by allowing deer hunts on his property. His father started buying up 4,200 acres in the early 1970s.
Carl Coonrod said the family could not service the debt on the property just on the cattle business. He charges $2,200 to hunt on his property, which includes room and board.
Last year he had eight hunters from New York and Wisconsin -- and in the six days they were there he made 25 percent of his annual farm income.
"That is a major amount of money," he told the governor.
Coonrod urged the governor to make it easier for out-of-state hunters to get hunting tags, since the majority of the hunters who can afford high prices come from out of state to hunt in Kansas.