The Legislative Plot Thickens; Environmental Bills Wait with Focus on Budget / Tax
(If you would like a copy of Zack’s testimonies, you can also find them in PDF at the end of this post.)
The Kansas Legislature is nearing the Turnaround Day deadline and the plot is thickening. For those who are unfamiliar, Turnaround Day is the final day for the legislature to consider bills of their own chamber, minus “blessed” bills, before having to turn their attention to the opposite chamber’s bills. In other words, House committees will now consider the bills that passed the Senate, and vice versa. But, thus far, many of the environmental bills this year are either being “blessed” for further debate past the deadlines or will be left alone this year. This is because the major focus for legislators this session is to figure out a quick-acting remedy to our $325 million fiscal year shortfall and tax solution for our projected $800 million shortfall over the next year and a half. These projections do not include budget alterations coming from an upcoming school finance decision from the Kansas Supreme Court. With all eyes on fixing the broken budget and an appropriate raise in taxes, environmental issues, along with other issues, such as allowing guns on college campuses and expanding Medicaid, will have to wait.
Thus far this session, I have appeared before 4 different committees and testified on 5 bills. More information about those particular bills is listed later in this update. Below is a list of the 21 bills I have been following. Those underlined bills are ones that Kansas Sierra Club has testified upon thus far. (This list is shareable.)
Legislation: (Green (+) = favorable, Red (*) = we oppose, Orange = Neutral, No Color = No position yet)
SB 24 – Designating the channel catfish as the Kansas state fish (Likely to die after Turnaround)
SB 46 / HB 2100 – Water Conservation Area findings, notice, management plans (On General Orders)
SB 48 / HB 2099 – Remedies for impairment of water rights, diverting water (on General Orders)
SB 60 / HB 2134 – Extending the sunset of certain department of agriculture fees (In Committee)
SB 182 – Requiring the KS Corporation Commission to study electric utility & ratepayer issues (In Committee)
SB 183 – Requiring the KS Corporation Commission to implement retail electric choice (In Committee)
HB 2032 – Increasing existing fees for the State Water Plan Fund (In Committee)
HB 2060* – Increasing registration fees on electric and hybrid vehicles* (likely to die after Turnaround)
HB 2131+ – Providing a sales tax exemption for food and food ingredients+ (In Committee)
HB 2166* – Authorizing private entities to charge fees at electric vehicle charging stations* (likely to die)
HB 2182+ – Enacting the Kansas Agricultural Industry Act (Industrial Hemp)+ (in Committee)
HB 2189+ – Protecting surface owners’ property rights+ (likely to die after Turnaround)
HB 2199* – Eliminating Conservation Easements/ Land Rights in Perpetuity* (In Committee)
HB 2229 – Classification / taxation of certain oil and gas equipment (In Committee)
HB 2238 – Relating to the sales tax exemption for farm machinery equipment (In Committee)
HB 2241 – Increasing fees on irrigation and surface water for the State Water Plan Fund (In Committee)
HB 2246* – Amendments to Kansas Noxious Weed Law* (likely to die after Turnaround)
HCR 5008* – Amending State Constitution to provide .1cent sales tax dedication for State Water Plan Fund*
For bill texts, fiscal notes, committee assignments, and more, visit www.kslegislature.org/li
Major Stories & Bills: WATER
- House Chairman Primes the Pump on Water Legislation, Committee Poised To Pass Bills
The newly created House Water and Environment Committee is preparing legislation to tackle the State’s looming water problem. We have sediment filling up our reservoirs in the central and eastern part of the state, affecting our water storage capacity, aquatic habitat, and recreational use. In Western Kansas, we are substantially drawing down our Ogallala-High Plains aquifer to where we may only have a few decades before some Kansas towns literally dry up. Members of the new committee have been getting up to speed on the issue through informational briefings from the Kansas Water Office, Kansas Geological Survey, Kansas State University, the Kansas Sierra Club, and more. Committee Chairman, Tom Sloan (R)-Lawrence, has provided some policy options for the committee to consider. There have been a handful of hearings on bills concerning water thus far, and the committee is getting close to advancing a few bills to the full House chamber. A few of the major bill considerations are below. A couple bills have been “blessed” and are available for further work after the Turnaround date. Click here for our full perspective and testimony on Kansas water policy and here for our policy recommendations.
HB 2241 – Increasing fees on irrigation and surface water for the State Water Plan Fund
What the Bill Does: HB 2241 calls for fee rate of $.40 per 1000 gallons for surface water upon reservoirs and $.005 per 1000 gallons for irrigation water.
Our Stance: (NEUTRAL) Kansas Sierra Club took a neutral position because we support leveling a fee upon irrigation water. Currently, ZERO fees are applied to irrigation withdrawals for the State Water Plan Fund (SWPF). Sure, irrigators pay for their own equipment, property tax value, and pay into pesticide and fertilizer fees, but for an industry that represents only 15% of our farm ground but uses 85% of the Kansas’ total water, we feel this industry ought to pay into the SWPF for area Kansas water projects. We support this element of the bill, but disagree with the increased fee for reservoir water use. Municipalities and industrial users of water already pay fees that go into the SWPF, so we think this fee proposal is a bit much, but we do feel that the water users of the reservoirs should pay the majority of any maintenance of that reservoir, i.e. the dredging, instead of Kansans across the state footing that bill. Click here to see our testimony.
Status: HB 2241, now blessed, will come back for more consideration in House Water & Environment.
HCR 5008 – Amending State Constitution to provide sales tax dedication for State Water Plan Fund
What the Bill Does: HCR 5008 calls for a change in the Kansas Constitution to provide for a tenth-cent sales tax dedication to the State Water Plan Fund (SWPF). This bill was the recommendation of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force for Funding Water Management.
Our Stance: (OPPOSED) Kansas Sierra Club is opposed to this tenth-cent sales tax dedication because
HCR 5008 applies the cost burden to Kansans as a whole unfairly, as only a small percentage of Kansans are using the greatest share of our water. Again, because 85% of our state’s water is used by irrigators, it is simply not fair for a small percentage of farmers to take the largest proportion of our state’s water – for mostly private gain – and contribute just as much financially in sales tax dollars for the SWPF as the average Kansan, who uses very little water in comparison. Because water is not used equally, nor is benefitting our people equally economically, we need to consider a better proportional obligation to the funding stream. If indeed the sales tax is our best policy option to raise money for the State Water Plan Fund, then we would suggest our biggest industry beneficiaries of water use, such as irrigators, devise a strategy to proportionally match any funds that our public as a whole raises. By the way, state taxpayers already chip in to the financial burden of the State Water Plan Fund; it is the annual $6 million State General Fund transfer. This statutory requirement has been ignored by our Governor and lawmakers in the last several years, thus the SWPF is not receiving its dues from state taxpayers at-large. Click here to see our testimony.
Status: HCR 5008 is likely to fall off, but its contents may be considered for another bill later in the session.
Major Stories & Bills: TRANSPORTATION
- House Transportation Committee hears bill that Hikes Taxes for Electric & Hybrid Vehicles
HB 2060 –Raises Annual Registration Fees for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles
What the Bill Does: HB 2060 raises the annual registration fee for a hybrid vehicle to $75/yr. and electric vehicles to $150/yr. (that’s 2.5 and 5 times the amount respectively to a car less than 4500 lbs.).
Our Stance: (OPPOSED) HB 2060 is disproportionately penalizing these less-polluting vehicles. The bill is unfair to people who are spending their own money trying to be smart, less-polluting Kansans. If you think electrics/ hybrids are stealing money from our roads, check out the Governor’s budget! Our testimony here.
Status: The bill had a hearing in House Transportation. Luckily, the bill is likely to die by Turnaround.
In the News: Topeka CJ-Online http://cjonline.com/news/local/2017-01-28/kansas-house-bill-calls-special-registration-fees-electric-hybrid-vehicles
FRACKING / EARTHQUAKES
- Kansas Earthquakes Persist, Still No Full Legislative Hearing Set for Victims / Stakeholders
If you lived in Kansas in the last five years, especially in Wichita or south-central Kansas, you probably have experienced something that was rarely ever felt prior in the Sunflower State: earthquakes. In fact, some of you might have felt a couple of significant earthquakes, two 3.0+ magnitude earthquakes near Arkansas City and Kingman, KS last week! Kansas has had 69 earthquakes already this year and we had 525 earthquakes in 2016, including 23 over 3.0+ magnitude. What is worse is that some of our big earthquakes are moving upward to areas near Hays and even up north to Jewell County, KS. These levels, both in size and quantity, were very rare to Kansas before the start of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (together commonly referred to as “fracking”). This is because the waste injection of fluid from fracking operations have been directly linked to these man-made, “induced seismicity” earthquakes. On average in Kansas, for every barrel of oil, 10 barrels of brackish saltwater comes up from the ground from a fracking operation. These large quantities of fluids are unsafe for natural disposal on the earth’s surface, thus the current best practice is to dispose these liquids deep underground via our Class II injection wells. Geoscientists have concluded that these large quantities of fluid are weighing upon known and unknown fault lines, eventually causing fault slips, aka earthquakes.
State regulators have finally admitted that the earthquakes are being caused by the increased injection of fracking wastewater and have issued some regulations on injection for some relief for the earthquakes. However, much more needs to be done to rectify the damage already done by the oil & gas industry. Preventing more earthquakes from happening is really good, but Kansas property owners are finding that they are being stuck with damaged buildings and infrastructure, including cracks in their ceilings and walls, broken possessions from falling off the walls and tables, and structural damages to community buildings and water lines. In our opinion, the “Frackers” still need to pay up for the damages they’ve contributed to already.
Sadly, there has NOT YET been a full legislative hearing in which victims of earthquakes, or insurance companies, or realtors, or even the oil and gas industry have been able to voice their perspective on the matter.
The KCC, Governor Brownback, and the KS Legislature needs to take a more comprehensive approach to horizontal drilling and fracking that goes beyond the earthquakes. We demand that there be a public hearing regarding the damages incurred by Kansans from fracking and its toxic waste-producing processes.
Kansas Sierra Club is working to get a hearing this session on this very subject.
Action: Our new intern, Drew McClellan is working hard in collecting information / testimony prior to a potential hearing. If you can offer any help, please contact Drew at (316) 925-3697 or email him at email@example.com
Major Stories & Bills: LAND RIGHTS
HB 2199 –County Regulation of Conservation Easements; Elimination of Land Rights in Perpetuity
What the Bill Does: HB 2199 would drastically change the regulation of a conservation easement, which is a legal agreement that retires development rights in favor of permanent land conservation. The bill would first grant new authority powers of county commissioners to regulate conservation easements, and could allow the county commissioners to terminate any conservation easement at their discretion. Similar bills have been introduced over the past couple of years.
Our Stance: (OPPOSED) HB 2199 erodes the fundamental values of the 1992 Kansas Conservation Easement Act and strips Kansas landowners of their property rights to conserve their land. When a landowner wishes to keep their legacy family farm from being developed into a strip mall, or when a landowner wants to preserve a beautiful, native land from being plowed under, a conservation easement allows the ability for a third party to protect that land long after the owner is gone. Do we want the State Government authorizing counties to micro-manage our private property rights? No.
Status: HB 2199 has been introduced into House Federal and State Affairs Committee, an exempt committee of deadline restrictions. This bill is not currently scheduled for a hearing, but may happen the week of March 6th.
Action: Call the office of Chairman Representative John Barker (R)-Abilene at (785) 296-7674 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to respectfully request that the committee not waste their time in considering such a bad bill. Suggest that our private property rights should not be handed over to county political heads.
HB 2246 –Amends Kansas Noxious Weed Law
What the Bill Does: HB 2246 transfers regulatory authority of noxious weeds from the KS legislature to the Secretary of the Dept. of Agriculture, and provides for a greater cost-share of chemicals to counties. If this bill sounds familiar, it is because it was also introduced last year. The chief proponent of this bill is the Kansas Livestock Association.
Our Stance: (OPPOSED) We are worried that HB 2246 opens the door for more chemical herbicides to be used by counties to control noxious weeds. Common cancer-causing herbicides, including 2-4D and Glyphosate (RoundUp) and “bee-killer” neonicotinoid imidacloprid have all increased some 20% in use in the United States since 2010 according to the United States Geological Survey. Overuse of chemicals have already created herbicide-resistant “super-weeds” and have damaged sensitive crops, pollinator populations, and ecosystems without much recourse against counties and applicators. Click for our testimony here.
Status: The bill received a hearing in House Agriculture, in which many concerns were raised by committee members. I expect this bill to die as we reach the Turnaround deadline this week.
HB 2189 – Protecting surface owners’ property rights
What the Bill Does: HB 2189 would prompt the KS Corporation Commission to issue rules that prohibit oil and gas operators from drilling and operating wells within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings and 500ft within existing unoccupied building structures to protect the rights of affected persons and property associated with those buildings. Operators of wells within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings would be required to take actions to capture gas; reduce noise, light, and odors; and protect the properties from spills. The bill would also require notification to any resident or person whose place of business is within 1,000 feet of a proposed well and would require the operator to meet with any of those parties who request a meeting.
Our Stance: (SUPPORT) We see HB 2189 as common sense regulations to protect homeowners from unfair industry intrusion and potential operation hazards.
Status: Unfortunately, I expect this bill to die this week. However, this bill will be available for next year.
Join the Kansas Sierra Club at the annual Lobby Day in Topeka
WEALTH Lobby Day at the Capitol – Thursday, March 16th, at the Kansas Statehouse
Join Kansans to learn about and advocate for Water, Energy, Air, Land, Transportation, and Health in Kansas.
RSVP before March 9th for a complimentary lunch!
- Get up-to-date on current environmental advocacy
- Visit the Solutions Showcase
- Enjoy a Local Foods Lunch (RSVP by March 9th)
- Sample New Ideas at the Cookies & Conservation Conversation
- Meet with your legislators
All are welcome to join us for the full day or specific agenda items
9:00-9:45 Climate Prayer Vigil (Visitor’s Auditorium)
10:00-11:30 Advocacy Overview (Visitor’s Auditorium)
10:00-2:00 Solutions Showcase (First Floor Rotunda)
11:30-1:00 Speakers & Local Foods Lunch (First Floor Rotunda)
1:00-2:00 Cookies & Conservation Conversation (First Floor Rotunda)
1:00-3:00 Meetings with legislators
If you register by March 9th, you will receive a FREE lunch for your lobby day attendance:
Event Sponsors Include: Kansas Sierra Club, Climate + Energy Project, Friends of the Kaw, True Blue Women, Kansas Natural Resources Council, Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability, Sustainable Sanctuaries Coalition, League of Women Voters of Kansas, King Solar, Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Kansas Rural Center, Kansas Interfaith Action, Kansas Natural Resources Council, Kansas City Chapter NAACP, Clean Air Now, Grassland Heritage Foundation, and Audubon of Kansas – with more added every day!
- Also: You can read about last year’s lobby day here, or visit the link on Climate +Energy Project’s website.
Look for a special Kansas Legislative News – Lobby Day preview edition from Zack prior to March 16th. We will have Sierra Club talking points for you prior to you meeting with your legislators. Please contact Zack Pistora at email@example.com if you have any questions.
If you are unsure of who your state legislators are in your area: visit https://openstates.org/
Be more involved in the Democracy that represents YOU!
In democracy, the people are supposed to be the boss. We, Kansans, trust our elected officials will represent our views. It is time we share our views with state legislators, with newspapers, and with our peers. We all need to do our part to help the environment, and our lawmakers’ part is to pass and keep good laws.
The KS LOBBY CORPS establishes a corps of volunteer “legislative liaisons” who are committed to:
- Keeping elected members of the state government informed about environmental, public health and sustainability challenges in the State of Kansas;
- Advising officials on the most appropriate decisions, based on good science, good information and when available, on the Sierra Club’s official policy; and
- Organizing constituent resistance to public policy which is inconsistent with principles of fairness and equity for all people.
The Goal – to expand the Club’s capacity to influence decision-making on environmental policy and provide leadership for member engagement in targeted efforts with State Legislators
Volunteers in this group would work directly or indirectly with elected officials in their home jurisdiction. Their responsibilities will include:
- Developing a personal relationship with the official and their staff (through such activities as attending public forums and introducing themselves, reading the official’s newsletters to keep up with particular interests, writing letters or making phone calls on issues or opportunities as needed and responding to their requests for information);
- Participating in forums hosted by other organizations with similar interests to learn more about current events and issues and arranging for collaboration on common issues;
- Sharing information with Zack the Lobbyist and other Sierra Club leaders as needed to maintain positive relationships with the elected official and others within the Sierra Club network of liaisons;
- Organizing grassroots advocacy events that engage the official on issues prior to decision-making,
To participate in the KS Lobby Corps program, contact Zack or attend your Group meeting.
Your membership and support for the Kansas Sierra Club are needed now more than ever!
As always, thank you for being part of our Kansas Chapter of Sierra Club, for caring about our environment, and for reading my update. We especially appreciate your support right now, in light of what’s happening in national politics with our new President. Thank you for contributing to Kansas Sierra Club and a better world! Please contact me if I can be of any help.
Your proud Kansas Lobbyist,
Don’t forget to mark your calendar and register for our Lobby Day…
Testimonies from Zack Pistora below: