Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Lawmakers Wade into Noxious Plant Reform

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Lawmakers Wade into Noxious Plant Reform

Article excerpt

The Kansas Department of Agriculture began a new lobbying campaign to overhaul state law by transferring noxious weed oversight from elected legislators to state bureaucrats while altering relationships with county weed control programs.

A dozen weeds are so pernicious and prolific they are listed in state law as an enemy of the state, and management of the decades- long, expensive fight against such menaces promises to bring the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback into a political battle among champions and critics of change.

Leslie Kaufman, a lobbyist with the Kansas Cooperative Council, told members of an interim legislative committee studying agriculture policy that placement of noxious weed rule authority in hands of agriculture department officials was endorsed by the association's 700 fertilizer, chemical, seed businesses and related companies with a stake in the issue.

"The current legislative process for designating noxious weeds can be time-consuming and cumbersome," Kaufman said. "At times, it can become political, too. The existing structure might not allow for a quick response in addressing damaging weed issues and that does concern us."

On the other side of the fence at the committee hearing was Rob Andrews, director of Gray County's noxious weeds department.

He said the agriculture department's bill was more or less an executive branch power grab designed to limit influence of local voices in consideration of what constituted a dangerous weed in Kansas.

The proposed bill doesn't guarantee weeds the state and counties have been fighting for many years will remain an emphasis, Andrews said. It is possible Johnson grass or musk thistle could be viewed as a low priority when compared to action against newer pests, he said.

"That's pretty much at odds with the philosophy we've had for treating noxious weeds for decades," Andrews said.

Under the bill certain to be debated in the 2016 session, an agriculture department advisory board would be created to make recommendations about which weeds ought to be listed as noxious starting in July 2017. …

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