With the new year upon us, attention will soon turn to the legislative session beginning Jan. 11 in Topeka. I’m incredibly grateful for the elected officials we have. Legislative sessions are always about making tough choices on allocating resources that are too few to address problems that appear unending. This upcoming one is set to be one of the toughest.
One reason is because we’re just beginning to emerge from the pandemic that’s upended life as we once knew it. The continued need for social distancing will severely limit floor passes, building access and other interactions legislators have with the public in the Capitol.
Technology will allow the public and lobbyists to participate in the process of drafting laws, but we know it’s just a stopgap measure. The business of the state will still get done, but there might be a few more bumps in the road. That’s why it’s more important than ever to open a dialogue with your Kansas representative and senator.
In addition to access in the Capitol, there will likely be fewer legislative coffees, forums and other chances to interact with our leaders until there’s widespread inoculation. Sending emails, making phone calls and writing letters will be the only reliable way to ensure your voice is heard on the subjects that matter to you.
At Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB) we have three priorities in this year’s session: broadband, taxes and water. Our advocacy staff will still weigh in on any proposed legislation important to our members, but those are the big three this session.
Access to a vibrant, highspeed broadband network is essential to the future of both rural and urban Kansas. One of the few bright spots of the pandemic has been the ability for a significant portion of our population to work wherever there’s adequate signal. Moving forward, broadband will provide new opportunities for the delivery of health care, education, entertainment, business development and enhance the capabilities of precision agriculture.
Of course, deploying broadband access to every Kansan will take time and money, which is why taxes make our list. The state’s tax coffers aren’t quiet as full as they otherwise would be because of the pandemic. After digging through the couch cushions, legislators might get the idea to start tinkering with the tax code to fill in the gaps.
Such changes are always fraught and with the public limited in how it can interact with legislators, this session is especially prone to any tinkering having unintended consequences. KFB will continue to advocate for the use-value system in place now that accurately and appropriately values agricultural lands. Agricultural operations are businesses and sales tax exemptions are necessary to continue fair and equal tax treatment for business-related purchases.
Finally, KFB will continue its support for the basic tenets of Kansas water law. Knowing, understanding and implementing these principles provide our members the ability to plan, invest and defend their private property rights for one of the state’s most valuable resources.
I know these aren’t the only issues legislators will face in the upcoming session, but they’re vitally important for all Kansans. I thank all of our elected officials for their service and wish them well in the endeavor they will soon embark on.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service. Greg Doering of the KFB can be reached at kfb.org.