House receptive to expanding tax break zones

The House examined more than 20 bills Wednesday, including one that would further expand a state program that allows tax breaks and tuition reimbursement for people from other states who move to certain Kansas counties.

House Bill 2417 would add Labette, Montgomery, Cherokee and Sumner counties to the Rural Opportunity Zones program, bringing its total reach to 77 of the state’s 105 counties.

Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, carried the bill to the House floor and said the rural zones program is meeting its stated mission, with more than 1,000 applicants.

“The program helps attract fine investment businesses and job growth in rural areas of the state,” Carlin said.

This Rural Opportunity Zones program was established by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2011 for counties that lost 10 percent population during the previous decade.

The initial proposal included 40 counties, but it jumped to 50 by the time the Legislature approved it. Last year the program expanded to 23 more counties, including Jackson and Wabaunsee.

The program provides income tax exemptions for five years and up to $15,000 in student loan repayment to out-of-state residents who move to counties with declining populations.

Legislators from the southeast Kansas counties involved in the latest expansion program spoke strongly for it Wednesday.

Rep. Don Schroeder, R-Hesston, and other lawmakers talked about the problem of people working in Kansas, but having their residence in bordering Oklahoma. Schroeder said he wanted to see those people live in and be taxpaying citizens of Kansas.

“All of these counties that border the Oklahoma line sometimes struggle to get workers,” Schroeder said. “Let’s see if we can do something to attract people to live and work in this state.”

Rep. Jim Kelly, R-Independence, voiced his support for the bill. Coming from a county close to the Oklahoma border, he said he has seen its potential impact on his community.

“Montgomery County has 12.5 percent of its work force that travels in to work,” Kelly said. “Forty-one million dollars a year is going out of state with wages earned in Kansas jobs in aircraft and equipment manufacturing.”

Kelly went on to say that the Kansas Department of Commerce supported the bill.

Rep. Richard Proehl, R-Parsons, had a similar stance.

“All four counties involved are losing population and suffering,” he said.

The bill, which passed on voice vote, is eligible for final House action.

The House took final action on a number of other bills Wednesday. It passed, 123-0, bills to expand the state’s anti-terrorism statutes (HB 2463), allow on-site burial of hazardous waste (HB 2549), expand protections of anonymity for parents who voluntarily surrender children at approved locations like hospitals and fire stations (HB 2577), and a bill to clarify that churches are exempt from food sales licensing laws that should allow a North Topeka church to renew its taco sales (HB 2582).

Other proposals were slightly more contentious. A bill to alter pharmacy licensing regulations (HB 2561) passed 105-18, and a bill regarding ownership of unclaimed property (HB 2687) passed 119-4.

This story was originally published in The Topeka Capital-Journal on February 26, 2014. 

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Fluoride opponents have their day at Statehouse

Lawmakers from the House Health and Human Services Committee heard lengthy testimony from opposing sides Wednesday about fluoride and its effect on water in Kansas.

Language in House Bill 2372 states that more research would need to be made on the exact effects of fluoride, but there is a possibility for harm to the brain and other important organs in the human body. It would require municipalities that fluoridate drinking water to include a statement to that effect on water bills.

Michael Connett, a lawyer, led bill proponents by discussing concerns with fluoride in water.

“As an initial point, infants do not need to receive fluoride,” he said.

Yolanda Whyte, testified about pregnancies and the effect of fluoride on children, a theme that Connett picked up on.

“They started doing studies and low and behold the children getting more fluoride have lower IQs,” Connett said.

The two cited a study done by Anna Choi, of Harvard University, that said fluoride in the water in China and Iran affected IQ. No such outcomes have been observed in the United States, which Connett said was due to lack of study.

“The problem with that approach is the absence of evidence does not equal the evidence of safety,” Connett said.

Some committee members questioned whether proponents had made a strong enough case for the bill, especially considering the lack of conclusive studies done in the United States.

“I hope you understand our concern about creating a bill or creating a requirement based off inconclusive science,” said Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, before adding, “but we’ve also made laws based off of inconclusive science.”

Rep. Leslie Osterman, R-Wichita, asked how many other states are looking at an anti-fluoride bill.

Connett said that Kansas would be the first state to pass this kind of legislation.

After hearing from the proponents for the bill, a long list of opponents testified.

One of them was John Neuberger, professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at The University of Kansas School of Medicine. He represented the Kansas Public Health Association, which promotes and improves the population health in Kansas.

He said many parts of the Harvard study weren’t conclusive. He said Choi’s results were preliminary in nature and shouldn’t be used for setting drinking water policy in the United States.

Greg Hill testified on behalf of the Kansas Dental Association that every dollar invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental costs.

There also was opposition testimony from the Kansas Action for Children, Oral Health of Kansas and citations from the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Dental Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The committee took no action on the bill.

This article was originally printed in The Topeka Capital-Journal on February 19, 2014.