Topeka Animal protection and health safety groups on Monday blasted a plan by Gov. Sam Brownback to merge the Animal Health Department into the Department of Agriculture.
They said that they feared the work of the Animal Health Department would get buried in the bureaucracy of the larger Agriculture Department.
The Kansas Emergency Management Association, in written testimony, said it feared the move could slow the state’s response to an animal disease outbreak.
“We recognize the governor’s desire to streamline state government and to achieve savings by reducing duplication of functions. However, diminishing the state’s ability to avoid a devastating animal disease emergency is not the way to do it,” the group said.
Midge Grinstead, director of the Lawrence Humane Society for the past 14 years, said the Animal Health Department does an excellent job.
“There is no other state agency that is equipped to handle the large number of animals from breeders, animal hoarders and shelters,” Grinstead said.
“Local municipalities would be forced to handle animal situations they are not prepared to deal with, including disease outbreaks, and bite cases,” she said.
Others said Kansas would go back to the days when it received a national blackeye based on reports of unregulated and inhumane puppy mills.
But Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman told the House Natural Resources Budget Committee that the agency would make the proposal work.
“We are prepared to make this a win-win situation for all involved, with greater synergies and efficiencies, while at the same time improving our customer service to the agriculture community and to the public,” Rodman said.
Under Brownback’s executive reorganization order, the Animal Health Department would be transferred to the Agriculture Department for an estimated savings of about $500,000.
The Kansas Livestock Association supports Brownback’s proposal, but said the success of the plan will be contingent on the Legislature providing enough funds for the proposed new Animal Health Division of the Agriculture Department.
Livestock Commissioner Bill Brown, who directs the Animal Health Department, said he believed the state could save some funds under the proposal, but he urged legislators to restore proposed budget cuts by Brownback to a program designed to control the feral swine population.
Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said he wanted to make sure the program was maintained. Several years ago, more than 200 feral swine were removed from Douglas County.
Brown said Kansas currently has 500 to 600 feral swine, but that could increase dramatically without the program. “Given the reproduction dynamics of a feral pig, you’d be back in the thousands,” he said.
The committee planned to work on Brownback’s budget proposal later.