Topeka Already seeking repeal of corporate farming restrictions, Gov. Sam Brownback's administration on Monday pushed for passage of a bill that would limit nuisance lawsuits against agricultural operations.
Chelsea Good, an attorney with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said Senate Bill 168 was needed "to provide an important added layer of protection for farmers and ranchers from unwarranted nuisance lawsuits."
But Paul Johnson, policy analyst with the Kansas Rural Center, urged the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to delay action on the measure and appoint a panel to study this bill and Senate Bill 191, which would alleviate restrictions on corporate farming, before the 2014 legislative session.
"While agriculture is vital to Kansas, do farmers have a greater fundamental right to expand their operations over the `property rights' of their neighbors?" Johnson asked. He said the two bills represent fundamental public policy changes "that will shape the future of Kansas' agriculture and impact the qualify of life in Kansas."
But Good, with the state agriculture department, said there are groups that have used nuisance lawsuits to restrict and, in some cases, shut down agriculture production.
But Good said she knew of no such movement in Kansas. Johnson, with the Kansas Rural Center, said there was no testimony on an increase in nuisance lawsuits, "so why are we rushing this bill through?"
Under the measure, agricultural operations could "reasonably" expand, decrease or change operations as long as they comply with applicable local, state and federal laws. The legislation also limits damages that farms may face under nuisance claims.
Under questioning from members of the committee, Good said if a farmer wanted to change the land use to a more intense operation, the farmer would have to comply with all applicable environmental laws.
In addition to the agriculture department, the measure was supported by the Kansas Pork Association, Kansas Livestock Association, and other farm groups.