Democratic system works, but it requires participation by all

Kansas farmers and ranchers have tremendous respect for the law and this country?s democratic system of creating new laws. Those producers who belong to Farm Bureau believe the same.

The origins of the public policy positions of our organization can often be traced to two or three farmers during an informal cup of coffee at the local co-op or maybe a casual pickup -to-pickup conversation on a country road. Here the seeds of expressing their beliefs on issues impacting their profession are planted and grow.

Those same conversations lead to similar discussions in a county Farm Bureau meeting. Next, give and take at a regional gathering culminates with a full-blown formal debate and discussion in a room with hundreds of farmer/rancher voting delegates at a state or national Farm Bureau meeting.

It?s a system of surfacing, debating and building consensus around good ideas very much like that found in the state legislature or Congress. It?s a system with built-in checks, balances and relief valves and allows the best ideas to rise to the top while the not-so-good ideas naturally fade away.

There?s no better example of how this process works than in the current public debate concerning immigration reform.

Nowhere does our policy promote or condone the presence of illegal aliens in the United States. Similarly, the farmers and ranchers of Farm Bureau do not support the extension of social welfare or educational benefits to illegal aliens.

Discussion and debate on this issue has occurred and consensus has been reached in hometown meetings and at county, state and national Farm Bureau gatherings across the country.

Because of its complex and far reaching nature, farmer/rancher members of Farm Bureau believe immigration reform is an issue best suited for debate and resolution at the federal level. U.S. law already contains severe penalties for those who would knowingly hire illegal aliens and those provisions should be enforced.

The current lack of enforcement of existing federal laws should not translate into unnecessary burdens or responsibilities on legitimate businesses. Many state lawmakers agree.

Others don?t, and have introduced ideas that will end up making life harder for the law-abiding, taxpaying Kansas businessperson. As strongly as they believe immigration should be dealt with in Washington and not Topeka, business and farm groups can?t just pass on this debate and allow these, not-so-good ideas to become law.

Those who want immigration reform decided in Topeka would unjustly penalize businesses by potentially revoking their state-granted business license. Kansas businesses should not be penalized for following federal immigration laws, nor should they be mandated to enforce federal immigration laws.

Part of the problem in dealing with this issue during an election year is state lawmakers want to campaign this fall having done something to impact immigration reform. Voters will fill all 165 Kansas House and Senate seats later this year.

Those pushing the business license revocation are banking on their idea being the only opportunity for lawmakers to vote on this sensitive issue.

Regardless of their motivation, if the legislature wants to vote on state-originated immigration reform, shouldn?t this elected body provide some opportunities without unfairly hampering business people?

There are some good ideas floating in Topeka that will allow lawmakers that opportunity: The state should provide businesspeople a clear understanding of the rules. Second, target and punish employers who intentionally hire and abuse undocumented workers. Finally, those who perpetuate the use of fake ID documents must be brought to justice.

Farmers, ranchers, businessmen and other thoughtful, intelligent Kansans have respect for the law and the way it?s created. That?s why they?re participating in this issue in Topeka even though the final solution must come from Washington.

Meantime, let?s hope our friends in Congress take note of what?s happening in our statehouse, and other state capitals across the land, and provide workable immigration reform.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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