TOPEKA, KS (AP)--A populist coalition used its majority on a Senate committee Feb. 1 to bottle up a bill that would create a new agricultural loan program.

The Democrats and conservative Republicans who formed the Kansas Independent Family Farm Coalition this year question whether the loan bill does enough to help farmers. Some of them also want the committee to consider an alternative proposal from a coalition member.

However, some senators believe coalition members plan to use their majority to block passage of many bills, to force the Legislature to consider the coalition's agenda. That agenda includes proposals attacking large agribusiness corporations and making state enforcement of antitrust laws more aggressive.

The Senate Agriculture Committee failed to endorse the agricultural loan bill on a 4-5 vote. All of the no votes came from coalition members.

"They don't want the bill; it's not part of their agenda," said Chairman Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, one of the yes votes. "If they really wanted to help farmers, they'd be more cooperative."

Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said he and other coalition members had genuine policy questions about the agriculture loan bill.

However, he also acknowledged, "There are other bills we have to make sure get heard, too."

The bill would make up to $50 million in loans available to farmers at lower-than-normal interest rates.

Banks handling deposits from the state would pay a lower interest on those deposits. The state would forgo about $1 million in interest earnings.

Banks would pass their savings onto farmers in the form of lower interest rates on loans for production expenses. Interest on production loans can range from 9% to 11.5%, but under the program, the interest rate would be 7% to 7.5%.

The bill passed the House last year, and Gov. Bill Graves supports it.

"He believes we shouldn't lose sight of the purpose, which is to provide a form of relief for farmers who face tough cash flow problems," said Derek Schmidt, a legislative liaison and attorney on the governor's staff.

Huelskamp proposed that the state revive a program it ran from 1986 through 1990, but the committee didn't vote on his plan.

Under that program, banks giving lower interest rates to farmers received a credit against their state taxes for the amount of money a farmer saved.

Huelskamp argued his approach would be more direct. Sen. Harry Stephens, D-Emporia, another coalition member, said the agriculture loan bill would help banks as much as it would help farmers.

Sen. Christine Downey, D-Newton, who is not a coalition member, argued that while Huelskamp's plan could have merit, the Legislature should move quickly on the loan bill so that "farmers can be at the banks."

Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, sponsor of the bill, called the actions of coalition members "ridiculous" because the bill represents real relief to farmers.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.