Bipartisan bill would give public a say in large, corporate poultry developments

Cecilia Pruitt of Tonganoxie, who was part of an effort to oppose development of a Tyson poultry processing plant in that area, speaks at a Statehouse news conference Thursday in favor of two bills that were introduced to allow protest petitions and public votes for future large-scale poultry projects.

? In response to public outrage last year over a proposed large-scale Tyson Foods poultry processing facility near Tonganoxie, two bills have been introduced in the Legislature that would give the public more say about any similar proposals in the future.

Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, and Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, announced Thursday that they are introducing bills that would allow protest petitions and public votes in communities where people oppose such developments.

One bill would authorize that process for approval of large-scale poultry slaughtering operations; the other would govern large-scale confined feeding and breeding facilities.

Holland introduced the Senate version of those bills in the Senate tax committee Thursday. Karleskint is expected to introduce identical House versions within the next few days. Both lawmakers represent districts that include Tonganoxie.

“That agreement, which was known as Project Sunset, was made behind closed doors, and without any public input,” Holland said at a news conference, referring to the Tyson project in Tonganoxie. “With the exception of a few area officials, no one — not the citizens of Tonganoxie, not the residents of Leavenworth County, not even the state legislative delegation — had any inkling of an idea that a poultry plant was being proposed for southern Leavenworth County.”

Cecilia Pruitt, a Tonganoxie resident who was active in a group that opposed the plant, talked about how her community experienced firsthand what happens when business development projects such as the proposed Tyson plant are worked out behind closed doors.

“I don’t even have the words to begin to explain the trauma that I experienced and my community members experienced last September,” she said. “The sleepless nights, the anxiety, the fear for our future. Homeowners, farmers, parents, all denied the right to make decisions about their own future and the future of their children.”

Karleskint said the bills are not intended to block future poultry projects, but only to give local communities more say in whether they can go forward.

Holland said Kansas already has similar laws for large-scale swine operations and large-scale dairy operations. But there is currently no provision for protest petitions and public votes to approve large-scale poultry facilities.

Holland also said he introduced the Senate bills in the tax committee because that committee is exempt from legislative deadlines that affect most other bills, but he said he expects them eventually to be referred to the Agriculture Committee.