State legislature kind to ag this session

Tallying this year?s legislative scorecard reveals a successful session for agricultural interests across the Sunflower State.

Major victories included an energy deal; fending off attacks on estate and franchise tax phase outs; surface owner notices; and water-rights protection. All are significant for farmers, ranchers, landowners and rural Kansas.

The energy bill passed by the legislature gives regulatory certainty to Kansas agriculture and other businesses by ensuring Kansans will not be subject to rules or regulations more stringent than federal law.

This agreement also advances farmers? and ranchers? support of energy derived from biomass and wind power by requiring Sunflower Electric to use renewable energy as part of its portfolio and to build high-voltage electric lines that will allow increased transmission of wind-generated electricity to western Colorado.

?This legislation has been a priority for our members during the last two years and we thank Gov. Parkinson, Sen. Morris, Speaker O?Neal and all the lawmakers for working hard to ensure Kansas has a comprehensive energy bill free from additional regulation,? said Steve Baccus, Kansas Farm Bureau president.

Another bill passed by the legislature will require notification of surface owners prior to drilling of any oil and gas wells, including estimates of the placement of roads, pipelines and tank batteries. This bill also requires notice to surface owners when there is a change of operator or prior to the plugging and abandonment of any well. The focus of the effort is to improve communications between oil and gas producers and surface owners.

Lawmakers also passed a bill tightening the process by which county commissions are required to review annexations to determine whether services promised in the cities? service plan are actually being extended into recently annexed areas.

This law prohibits counties from approving the annexation of a parcel consisting of more than 65 contiguous acres. In addition, it prohibits ?shoestring annexation,? a process by which a county or city could annex a narrow section of land, for example, the roadside leading to a casino or other desired property.

Legislation, which requires a sworn statement that legal access to private property has been granted before the state, is allowed to accept an application to appropriate water was also passed during the ?09 session. This new law will provide important protection for the property rights of farmers, ranchers and landowners.

A conference committee report containing several tax policy provisions, including clarification on value determination of ag land held in estates, is awaiting the governor?s signature. Efforts to end the phase-out of the estate tax and the franchise tax were defeated. The estate tax will end in 2010 and the franchise tax in 2011.

While the legislature was able to close the $328 million deficit in the state?s FY 2010 budget that takes effect July 1, budget woes loom large next year.

The FY 2010 budget deal reached by the 2009 legislature is projected to leave the state with an ending balance of only $17,000 to support a $13 billion budget.

While the budget agreement avoided pay cuts or furloughs for state workers and was accomplished without a tax increase, a large drop in state revenue in the next several months would force further cuts to state agency budgets and possible tax hikes next year.

Discussion of this issue will take place against the backdrop of an election year, so the possibility exists that, as in past years, one or two hot-button issues will consume the legislature while other policy issues may receive less attention.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.

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