Last Friday, the House gave preliminary approval to HB 2778, which would prohibit the state from entering into a contract with a company engaged in the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against the country of Israel. The bill’s language is clear that this legislation would ensure vendors contracting with the State of Kansas do not discriminate against Israel. I agree with the proponents who testified and explained the need to strengthen ties with our ally and trade partner, and would prevent illegal discrimination against the Middle Eastern country. Further, conferees made note of the hardships Jews have experienced in the past, and the need to continue to move forward. Concerning economics, it was noted that Kansas exports $57 million annually to Israel, and imports $84 million annually from them. The BDS movement hurts that trade partnership while also singles out the only Jewish state on earth. Written-only opposition testimony was supplied by the American Civil Liberties Union.

During the 2017 Session, HB 2409 (now K.S.A. 75-3740e et seq) was signed into law after having received overwhelming approval from both chambers. This bill, now experiencing legal challenges spearheaded by the ACLU, would prohibit the state from entering into a contract with a company or individual engaged in the BDS movement against Israel. HB 2409 passed the House with 116 yes and nine nays, and was swiftly challenged in federal court (Koontz v. Watson). The federal district court has preliminarily determined that it was the Legislature’s intent to censor an individual’s freedom of speech.

 Industrial hemp research

This past week the Agriculture Committee heard testimony on SB 263, which would allow the Kansas Department of Agriculture to cultivate and research the uses of industrial hemp. Principally, the research would be conducted in effort to analyze its required soils, growing conditions, harvest methods, and the potential for an industrial hemp market in Kansas. Additionally, a pilot program in Russell County would be established to study its effect on economic development and the development of industrial hemp products. Reps. Willie Dove, Steven Johnson, and Troy Waymaster expressed their support, as well as the Department of Agriculture, the Sierra Club, small businesses, and private citizens. Data was included that showed hemp uses 66 percent less water than corn, requires virtually no pesticides or fertilizers, and has great potential to improve agricultural and economic activity in rural Kansas. Opponents argued that the provisions of the bill would lead to the legalization of marijuana, while others asserted that this bill would not go far enough concerning hemp.

In March 2017, the House passed HB 2182 on a vote of 103-18. HB 2182 differs from SB 263, in that SB 263 solely allows the Department of Agriculture, either alone or in coordination with a state institution of higher education to grow, cultivate, and research industrial hemp. Earlier in February, the Senate approved this bill with a final vote count of 36-3. The committee passed SB 263 this week, and has yet to be considered by the Committee of the Whole.

K-12 cost study

Upon initial inspection, most alarming to me was the level of spending the report seemed to call for — in one scenario, the report seems to call for $2.1 billion in additional spending for our schools, on an annual basis, by the end of a five-year period, a staggering 44 percent increase over what the report said we are currently spending. This increase seems to be driven by an unachievable goal of a 95 percent graduation rate. This “shot at the moon” goal is idealistic, but virtually unattainable and certainly not sustainable even with adding $2.1 billion to our schools. The scenario with the smallest increase called for almost $500 million more in annual spending by the end of the five-year period for a lower graduation rate.

Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, represents Franklin County and the 5th District in the Kansas House. Email him at kevinjones@house.ks.gov