Ag News -
State Ag News
Friday, 03 February 2012 19:40
By Mary Clarkin
The Hutchinson News
It will be easier for corporate swine production facilities to expand into rural counties, under a Kansas bill that passed the House Friday morning on a 106-8 vote.
Currently, establishing corporate swine production in a county requires an election in the county. The House bill would give county commissioners the authority by resolution to permit or deny. A 60-day protest period would allow citizens to circulate a petition for signatures, to require a vote at the next county, state, or special countywide election. The number of signatures needed would be equal to 5 percent of the voters in the county who voted for the office of secretary of state in the last general election.
The Kansas Rural Center objected to the bill. Its policy analyst Paul Johnson described in a newsletter the bill’s progress as “the very definition of fast tracking.”
Introduced Jan. 23, the legislation was taken up for a hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee last week. Finished in the House, it now goes to the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Rep. Brian Weber, R-Dodge City, serves on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and supported the measure.
It provides “a nice combination of options for counties,” Weber said.
For those counties looking to encourage a swine production prospect, he said, this bill gives commissioners an affordable and efficient way, without the time delay of a referendum.
There is “plenty of protection” in the bill, too, Weber said, with the 5 percent signature threshold for a protest petition.
At one point in the bill’s development the signature threshold had been 10 percent.
Rep. Jan Pauls, R-Hutchinson, was one of the eight representatives voting no. She said she preferred the election requirement in the current law.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture requested the legislation. Other advocates included the Kansas Pork Association and Hodgeman County Economic Development. Besides the Kansas Rural Center, the Kansas Farmers Union also opposed it.
“It makes it harder for rural communities to decide whether they want large corporate hog farms. We believe in a local food economy,” said Julie Mettenburg, executive director of the Kansas Rural Center.
Corporate dairy production also is part of the bill, with clarifying language that makes procedures similar for both dairy and swine.