Topeka — Attempts by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to repeal limits on corporate farming were dealt a setback Friday as two legislative committees decided that separate bills on the issue need further study.
Key legislators said they believed that means repeal attempts won’t come up again during the 2013 legislative session.
A House committee voted to have the Kansas Judicial Council look at the issue of repealing the corporate limits. And the Senate Natural Resources Committee sent its bill to a study after the session is over.
“There were a lot of questions,” said Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington and House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman. The Judicial Council generally studies court-related matters but Schwartz said it has been called on in the past to look at proposed legislation.
Several rural legislators said they had received numerous contacts from farmers concerned about the bill.
Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, made the motion to send the matter to the Judicial Council. Based on testimony on House Bill 2404, Sloan said “there is a lot of heartburn on this. I don’t expect it will make it through the legislative process.”
While large agriculture groups supported the bill, others had problems with removing the requirement that corporations get approval of county commissioners to set up operations.
Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said that requirement was unfair and turning away a lot of business for the state. The administration also has said the corporate farming restrictions are unconstitutional because the same rules don’t apply to non-corporate farms.
Later, the House committee approved two Sloan amendments, which Sloan said would give direction to the Judicial Council. One would keep in place current zoning and environmental regulations on agricultural operations, and the other would say that the corporate leasing of lands would be inappropriate.
But Schwartz said that in her letter to the Judicial Council, she would ask the council to review the current law and House Bill 2404.
Nick Levendofsky, special projects coordinator with the Kansas Farmers Union, which opposed the bills, said he was glad the Legislature shut down work on the bills for now.
“I think it needs more time for study,” he said.
After the committees action, Secretary Rodman issued a statement, saying, “The reality is 82 years of bad policy may take more than one 80-day session to repeal.
“We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in agriculture and in the Kansas Legislature to ensure questions are answered and that we are ready to repeal the state’s corporate farming laws in the 2014 Kansas legislative session,” he said.
Kansas law now limits corporate ownership of agricultural land to family farm corporations, family partnerships or corporations with 15 or fewer stockholders, who must all be Kansas residents. The state also requires at least one partner or shareholder to live on the land or be actively engaged in supervising the work.