Free State Brewery looks forward to raised production limits

By Hannah Swank
KU Statehouse Wire Service

The Free State Brewery motto is, “Because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.”

With current legislature being considered in the Kansas House, there could be a lot more beer flowing from the Lawrence microbrewery in the future.

Senate Bill 346 would raise production limits of Kansas microbreweries from 15,000 to 30,000 barrels annually. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate in March and is now awaiting approval from the House Committee of Federal and State Affairs.

Free State Brewery, the first brewery in the state since Prohibition, opened its doors to its downtown Lawrence restaurant and 14-barrel brewpub in 1989. Free State has since expanded to provide draft beer to bars, build another location housing a 40-barrel brewery, and bottle and distribute to liquor stores.

“It allowed us to brew significantly more beer and ship it outside our own backyard,” said Steve Brandt, Head of Brewing and Bottling, “Our production levels and sales levels climb as our neighbors in Missouri and Nebraska continue to see growth and we continue consistent supplies to wholesale partners and businesses.”

Brandt estimates that 12,000 to 14,000 barrels of beer are produced each year between the two breweries. While the brewery isn’t quite up to the current production cap, Brandt said Free State worked with the Kansas Craft Brewers Guild to introduce the bill.

The bill originally requested production limits raised to 60,000 barrels, which is the federal benchmark for microbrewery production, but that amount was amended and reduced significantly by the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs in February. Brandt said since the higher amount couldn’t be achieved, it’s likely the group will request higher limits again in a few years.

“There’s always give and take in the process, but I expect this will last us a while and give us some breathing room,” Brandt said. “This bill allows us to get ahead of the game and make sure we don’t come up against the production ceiling. It allows us quite a bit of room to continue to grow.”

The two brewing facilities produce Free State’s four year-round flagship brews – Ad Astra Ale, Copperhead Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout and Wheat State Golden – and four seasonal brews – Brinkley’s Maibock, Octoberfest, Stormchaser IPA and Winterfest. The breweries also produce specialty four-packs of small-batch brews, Cloud Hopper Imperial IPA and the Iron Man Imperial Stout.

“Over the years, we’ve produced so many different beers and different beer styles, I haven’t even counted,” Brandt said. “There’s still space in the production brewery for room to expand.”

While the bill allows Free State Brewery to double its production, founder and proprietor Chuck Magerl said he doesn’t have national aspirations.

“We started out in Lawrence and have managed to sell beer in every county in Kansas that has a liquor license, as well Missouri and Nebraska,” Magerl said. “By the end of the year, we’ll start selling in Iowa.”

Magerl said the push to raise production limits is not because Free State has neared them but because he wants to continue to grow his business in the Midwest through community events, festivals and connection with beer enthusiasts.

“I see our business as a shining star in our region,” Magerl said. “We offer a local sense of identity and an opportunity for people to connect with our story.”

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Senate passes bill allowing state to sell assets

By Hannah Swank
KU Statehouse Wire Service

Sen. Laura Kelly (D- Topeka) said the legislature never anticipated there would come a time when it would sell off state assets. But that is what is being proposed in SB 423 to sell real estate in downtown Topeka, including the Landon state office building and the Eisenhower state office building.

In a long debate in the Senate Monday, there were four proposed amendments to SB 423 with three amendments approved.

Sen. Marci Francisco (D- Lawrence) proposed an amendment requiring a cost-benefit analysis of a potential sale to be submitted to the State Finance Council and then reviewed by the legislature.

Sen. Ty Masterson (R- Andover) said this requirement of legislative action to make sales final is just another hurdle. In response, Sen. Anthony Hensley (D- Topeka) said the hurdle referred to is the legislature itself.

“When you’re talking about a multi-million dollar sale, I think it’s within the purview of the Kansas Legislature to approve or disapprove that,” Hensley said. “I think it’s our responsibility as the elected representatives of the people of Kansas to be directly involved in this process.”

After a roll call vote, the amendment failed 11 Yea-29 Nay.

The concerns of Francisco and other Yea-voters were answered in the amendment proposed by Kelly requiring the sale be approved by the secretary of administration and consulted with the joint committee on state building construction.

SB 432 passed as amended by the Committee of the Whole and will move forward for final action.

Published by:
The Hays Post

Senate passes newborn infant protection act

By Hannah Swank
KU Statehouse Wire Service

In what he called a “friendly amendment,” Sen. Jeff King (R- Independence) said he appreciated the addition to HB 2577 concerning the newborn infant protection act.

The bill allows a parent to surrender an infant 45 days or younger to an on-duty employee at a fire station, city or county health department or medical care facility.

Sen. Forrest Knox (R- Altoona) proposed an amendment to expand the list of locations where an infant could be surrendered to include police stations, sheriff’s offices and law enforcement centers.

Sen. David Haley (D- Kansas City) said when the bill was originally introduced, legislators didn’t contemplate all the possible places for the purpose of safe-harboring children.

“I would hope to not only adopt this amendment, but in future years, to look for other places where a mother in distress could leave her child that would be considered a safe place,” Haley said.

In addition to the expansion of safe places for struggling parents to surrender infant children, the bill also ensures the anonymity of the parent or person surrendering the child unless there is reasonable suspicion for abuse.

The Senate Committee of the Whole passed HB 2577 as amended and the bill will move forward for final action.

Published by:
The Hays Post

Taxation Committee passes bill to implement sales tax holiday

By Hannah Swank
KU Statehouse Wire Service

In a close vote, 11-10, the House Taxation Committee passed HB 2607 on Wednesday to implement a sales tax holiday and exempt sales tax from purchases of school supplies, clothing and computers.

“I’m in favor of this, simply because I think it’s something our constituents are excited about,” said Rep. Carolyn Bridges (D- Wichita). “People like to know their state legislature is doing something that benefits them totally.”

Other legislators like Rep. Ronald Ryckman, Sr. (R- Meade) opposed the bill, who said this implementation is just a gimmick.

“If we really want to cut sales tax, let’s cut sales tax. If that’s what we want to do, let’s do it all year-round,” Ryckman said. “If we really want to help a certain class of people, then help that certain class of people.”

Other concerns raised included the burden placed on retailers during the tax holiday and the unaffected buying habits of consumers, since evidence shows the annual spending in states with similar implementation remains the same. According to the bill’s fiscal note, the state and local revenue loss would be nearly $7 million for 2015.

To combat these issues, Rep. Julie Menghini (D- Pittsburg) proposed an amendment to bring the statute into compliance with the streamlined sales tax agreement. The amendment also changed the language to an implementation date of 2015 in order to avoid a problem with notifying retailers at least 60 days in advance of the holiday.

Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton) indicated how he would vote when he read documents from the Tax Foundation saying: “Sales tax holidays have enjoyed political success, but recently, policy makers are reevaluating them. Rather than providing a valuable tax cut or a boost to the economy, sales tax holidays impose serious costs on consumers and business without providing off-setting benefits. Sales tax holidays are no part of sound tax policy.”

The bill passed as amended and will move forward for consideration by the House.

Published by:
The Garden City Telegram

Senate considers repealing renewable energy standards

By Hannah Swank
KU Statehouse Wire Service

Activists wearing green stickers reading, “Wind Works for Kansas,” shuffled into the crowded meeting for the Senate Taxation Committee on Wednesday to oppose SB 433 repealing the renewable energy standards act.

The renewable energy standards require utilities to produce or buy 10 percent of their electricity through renewable resources in 2011-2015. This percentage of electricity from renewable resources increases to 15 percent in 2016-2019 and to 20 percent by 2020.

According to Kimberly Svaty, the Public Policy Director for the Wind Coalition, Kansas utilities have already achieved the percentage standards through 2019 and are just shy of reaching the 20 percent rate.

Mike O’Neal, President and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, testified as a proponent of SB 433 saying that the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) currently in place is not a free-market concept.

“Wind projects will go where the wind blows. They’re not here because of the Renewable Portfolio Standard,” O’Neal said. “If the renewable energy mandate would go away, the wind wouldn’t quit blowing and the appetite for renewable energy would not go away.”

Jeff Glendening, Kansas State Director of Americans for Prosperity, echoed O’Neal’s testimony and stressed that the opponents of the RPS repeal are not against renewable energy, but instead are opposed to government statutes.

“We are tired of paying higher health care costs because of the government inserting itself into the health care marketplace. Just like that, we’re tired of paying higher energy costs because of edicts that come down from the EPA,” Glendening said. “This is a great opportunity for you all to show your support for the free market and for limited government.”

As an opponent of SB 433, Matt Riley, CEO of Infinity Wind Power, said the signal the legislature sent when the RPS was enacted was very strong and attracted developers like his company to invest in the state.

“The utilities aren’t going to change their behavior since they are pretty much fully subscribed to the RPS,” Riley said. “Repealing it really wouldn’t change anything, except it would send a very strong negative signal to companies like mine that our business is no longer welcome in this state.”

Jason M. Ball, President and CEO of the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce, said from a job-creation standpoint, the repeal of the RPS puts economic development efforts at risk and jeopardizes the state’s ability to recruit new industries.

“If supporting economic growth is one of the goals of this legislature, then the Renewable Portfolio Standards should stay in place,” Ball said. “It does not drive up the cost of energy; it protects jobs we already have; it supports our ability to create new jobs.”

Rule change would end party affiliation switching

By Hannah Swank and Kaitlyn Klein
KU Statehouse Wire Service

Fear that voters are switching parties to influence the outcome of the opposing party’s primary election has motivated legislators to pass a floor vote on a bill in the Kansas Senate on Wednesday.

House Bill 2210 moves the deadline for changing party affiliation from no less than 14 days before any election to not allowing party affiliation changes during primary election season, from the primary candidate filing deadline to the results of the primary.

Sen. Mitch Holmes, R- St. John, introduced the bill saying its purpose is narrowly focused to protect the integrity of primary elections.

However, there was almost two hours of debate about the intentions of the bill and possible repercussions.

Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, called the bill an “incumbent protection bill.”

“If you vote for this bill that’s essentially what you’re doing,” Hensley said. “You’re protecting yourself from a future primary opponent.”

He asked Holmes whether he knew how widespread the problem reached. Holmes said it was “hard to quantify,” but common from accounts he’s heard.

Hensley said the bill disenfranchises voters but Holmes said the bill had nothing to do with voter registration.

“This bill affects someone’s right to vote in no way whatsoever,” Holmes said.

Although Hensley acknowledged that party switching to influence election outcomes does occur, he said the problem is not significant enough to require a law change.

Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, disagreed.

“If this is done in even one election that is one election too many,” Lynn said.

Later in the debate Hensley asked Lynn to point to one election in Kansas that was “stolen” because of these party switching tactics.

Lynn declined to give a specific instance, but said it was “common knowledge” that it happens and that it affects elections across the country.

Abbie Hodgson, Secretary for the Douglas County Democratic Party, said Republicans in the legislature are wasting taxpayer time on a problem that doesn’t exist and there is not a great number of Democrats changing parties to skew primary elections.

“The Democrats I know that are registered as Republican are registered that way throughout the year,” Hodgson said. “This allows them to vote in more primary elections, become more engaged in the voting process and have more of a say in who represents them.”

While Hodgson doesn’t think the bill will have a dramatic effect on election outcomes, she said this will become a challenging obstacle for voters and a means of restricting votes.

Several amendments were proposed and failed during the debate.

Published by:
The Ottawa Herald

House committee votes to move municipal elections

By Hannah Swank
KU Statehouse Wire Service

In a six-to-six vote Monday, House Elections Committee Chair Rep. Scott Schwab (R- Olathe) broke the tie by voting in favor of HB 2227 to move municipal elections to the fall of odd-numbered years.

Schwab introduced the bill in February 2013 to move municipal primary elections to August and general elections to November of odd-numbered years.  Rep. Steve Huebert (R- Valley Center) said in the House Elections Committee meeting Monday that the bill was proposed to improve voter turnout.

“This has nothing to do with current school board members, city council members or mayors,” Huebert said. “For me, this has always been about the fact that turnout was bad and it has only gotten worse.”

Rep. Keith Esau (R- Olathe) agreed increasing voter turnout was a priority but also said the change will benefit military personnel serving abroad because currently there is not enough time between primary and general elections for those individuals to receive ballots.

Through HB 2227, elected officials would begin term in January of the year following election. Rep. John Barker (R- Abilene) proposed an amendment to change term start date to July and maintain the current term commencement.

At the hearing for HB 2227 on Feb. 10, Frank Henderson, President of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said having newly elected board members begin their terms seven months into the fiscal year and halfway through the academic year could be counter-productive and create a platform for making poor decisions.

Huebert said there are benefits to starting a term in January since it allows members to actively take part in forming a budget. Rep. Lance Kinzer (R- Olathe) said beginning a term in July could be problematic if an incumbent is defeated and then stays on the board for another eight months.

The committee voted five in favor and seven opposed and the motion to amend the January term commencement failed.

The Feb. 10 bill hearing also included testimony from proponent Clay Barker, Executive Director of the Kansas Republican Party, who said the goals of the KRP include making municipal elections partisan. The amended bill passed with no changes to the non-partisan election standard.

Rep. Tom Phillips (R- Manhattan) said HB 2227 will only to lead to more confusion for the public since local elections have been held in spring for over 150 years.

“I think people are going to be wondering why and they’re going to be asking why elected officials in Topeka are getting so involved in local elections,” Phillips said. “I’m not sure why we have to change it here in Topeka.”

HB 2227 will move out of the House Elections Committee to the full House for consideration.

Published by:
The Hays Post