Drones could mean an $85 billion industry for Kansas, Caryn Tyson said Saturday.

And the Sunflower State can’t afford to be grounded by extreme legislation that limits the development of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

Two of the three state lawmakers who represent Franklin County in Topeka addressed constituents’ concerns Saturday at the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Coffee. State Sen. Tyson, R-Parker, and state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, answered questions from the crowd and moderator Ruthanne Wasko, though state Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, was absent. A newsletter from the representative indicated he was on vacation.

“You’ve heard about all the items going on with government spying in fear of drones,” Tyson said. “The idea is to get ahead of this. Drones are going to be critical to agriculture. They are anticipating it to be an $85 billion industry. There is a bill in the House — thankfully it didn’t get out of committee — it would have completely outlawed drones. We don’t want to go that way. We don’t want to go that extreme.”

The state Senate is trying to craft a bill that would protect the reasonable use of drones, specifically in agriculture, Tyson said, but also safeguard the privacy and freedoms of individuals from drones. Finch made similar comments about the importance striking a balance on drones during an August legislative listening tour event, also sponsored by the Chamber.

The next legislative coffee is set for 10 a.m. April 5 at Ottawa City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St. The event was rescheduled from February because of a snowstorm.

Wasted session?

In response to a question asking whether the state’s new two-year budget had the unintended side effect of leaving lawmakers with too little to accomplish in Topeka during the session, thus causing legislators to spend their time on frivolous bills, Finch and Tyson offered samplings of what they called worthwhile legislation that could benefit Kansans in the long run.

A recent bill naming the official state fossil, Finch said, served as a good example.

“There are some several solid economic benefits from this fossil bill,” Finch said. “They’re going to begin filming a television show about [the person who discovered the fossil] that will bring economic development and dollars to Kansas as those crews come here and follow him as he does his work. There is some benefits to these kinds of bills from time to time, and if the state fossil bill is the biggest waste of time that we have going in the Legislature, then you guys have a pretty efficient government.”

The state’s two-year budget has indeed freed lawmakers’ time this session, Finch said, noting that if Kansas continues the budget format, he would support cutting the session time back during the off years when the budget was not as much of the Legislature’s focus. Other states with a two-year budget format, he said, usually have a 90-day session during budget years and a 60-day session during the off years. Such a change to the session’s current 90-day length would require modification of the state constitution, he said.

‘Worthwhile bills’

Controversial legislation dealing with spanking and religious freedom might have gotten the attention of Kansans — and even people across the country — this session, Tyson said, but lawmakers have been hard at work this year.

“We hear about the ones that grab the headlines and grab the emotion, but not the top-of-the-mountain issues,” Tyson said.

One of those issues, she said, includes removing the Red Belly Snake from the endangered species list to boost economic development. Because the animal is on the list, Tyson said, individuals hoping to build in certain areas that could be the habitat for the snake must pay a fee to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to move the snakes to another location. In many cases, she said, the rules themselves drive away development from the area.

“We heard testimony that no one has seen [the snake] in years or [been] able to catch one in years,” Tyson said. “This is very costly to our economic development and it doesn’t seem like much, but the bill did come before the Senate to remove the Red Belly Snake from the endangered species list for the state.”

Finch said the Kansas House of Representatives has been working on several worthwhile bills, including a health care bill that would allow for professional associations to self fund health care plans, as well as scrap components of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, that don’t benefit Kansans.

“You still get some of the protective measures of the Affordable Care Act, like not denying people for preexisting conditions, and allowing for young people to have health insurance longer off their parents’ plan,” Finch said. “But you get rid of some of the more costly provisions that include rate compression, ratios and some of the provisions that really don’t serve to benefit folks.”

The bill has been endorsed by the House and Senate, Finch said.

“It’s just a smart, Kansas, common-sense solution that uses the free market to help bring health care costs down,” Finch said. “That’s a good bill.”

Another bill passed by the House would protect young offenders from mixing with more serious criminals, he said.

“I think that’s a great idea and needs to be talked about,” Finch said. “Moving more toward a rehabilitation system, so that our young people don’t go to state-secure facilities where they mix with high-risk offenders and learn how to commit crimes better and more effectively, what I call crime college.”