Adjustments to the state’s current-year budget were center stage last week at the state capitol. The House and Senate passed a bill that would transfer money appropriated last year for the highway fund to the general fund. It also would cut payments to the state employees’ pension fund and other previously budgeted expenditures to erase a $270 million plus deficit that was projected for this fiscal year ending June 30. In addition, Gov. Sam Brownback took executive action to cut an additional $44.5 million in state appropriations to public universities and K-12 education.

The next hurdle for lawmakers is to pass budgets for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. This is expected to be one of the last measures considered during the 2015 legislative session.

Below is an update on other issues of interest to KLA members.

Commercial vehicle regulations – The Senate passed a KLA-supported bill, SB 21, that would exempt vehicles with a gross weight rating between 10,000 lbs. and 26,000 lbs. from most state commercial vehicle regulations. This exemption is limited to vehicles used in intrastate commerce. While the exemption is current law, it is scheduled to expire July 1 unless the legislature passes SB 21 this session.

Mitigation of watershed dams – The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee passed KLA-supported legislation (HB 2061) that would authorize the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s State Conservation Commission to acquire and administer conservation easements necessary for the mitigation of new dams sponsored by watershed districts. The Senate Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on an identical bill, SB 118, last week.

Augmentation to remedy impairments – The Senate Natural Resources Committee passed SB 52 last week. This bill would allow the chief engineer of the Division of Water Resources to use water augmentation to address cases of impairment of senior water rights. SB 52 was amended to restrict this authority to the Rattlesnake Creek Basin. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is considering a similar bill (HB 2059). KLA supports SB 52 and HB 2059.

Natural gas storage – KLA testified in opposition to HB 2132 last week. The bill would redefine the rights of storage gas injectors by repealing the right of capture. Under current law, injectors only have the right to conduct tests on existing wells that are above or adjacent to natural gas storage fields. KLA’s testimony expressed concern that HB 2132 would allow natural gas injectors to enter onto land without notice to the surface owners. The bill has yet to receive action by the House Energy and Environment Committee.

Ag property taxes – The House and Senate tax committees recently were briefed by the Kansas Department of Revenue on the methodology of use-value, which is used to appraise agricultural land for property tax purposes. Several committee members expressed concerns and opposition to use-value appraisal and suggested agricultural land is significantly under-appraised. A bill that would increase taxes on agricultural land is expected to be introduced this session.

Members will review bills proposed by the Kansas Legislature during the February 18 KLA Legislative Meeting and Dinner at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka. Broad member input is needed to help KLA take solid positions on specific legislation. To register for the meeting, click here.