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Animal facility inspection budget amendment sparks criticism from Republican lawmakers over proper vetting

TOPEKA — House and Senate panels rejected an amendment Tuesday to the Governor’s proposed budget for 2022 reinforcing an animal facility inspection program with improved funding and staffing opportunities due to a lack of committee review.

The Animal Facilities Inspection Program currently requires all animal facilities, including dog and cat breeders, pet shops and boarding facilities, to be licensed and inspected under rules established by the Kansas Pet Animal Act. The new recommendation from Gov. Laura Kelly would move the program into a new division under the state Department of Agriculture and appropriate $500,000 from the state coffers to the effort.

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Nearly $300,000 in fee fund expenditures from the Division of Animal Health would also be transferred to the new division. It also includes a provision for the agriculture secretary to hire a division director to oversee animal facilities inspection.

The few who spoke in support of the amendment cited an inadequately operating program likely slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Republican legislators on the Senate Ways and Means Committee were taken aback by the idea of establishing and appropriating half a million dollars in state funds to a new division this late in the session without proper vetting.

“We heard yesterday that the governor is not really excited about items that have not been fully vetted and gone through the process,” said Sen. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina. “She made the argument in her line-item vetoes, and I would hate to disappoint her by leaving an item in here that had not been fully vetted.”

In a day with little discussion on proposed budget amendments from the governor, the Senate panel and the House Appropriations Committee both engaged in discussing the issue before rejecting the late proposal. Still, discussion on the issue prompted some to suggest future work in the summer and fall or the 2022 legislative session.

A 2011 executive order moved the Animal Health Agency under the KDA, thus creating the Division of Animal Health. The division has always required inspections, but since 2011 staffing numbers have dwindled from nine staff and six inspectors to five staff and just three inspectors.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, state and federal inspection of these facilities have been scaled back since the onset of the pandemic. In March 2020, the USDA told licensees it would be “limiting routine inspections” based on “risk to the inspector and facility personnel.”

The amendment comes in response to these new conditions and a 2018 report by the Legislative Post Audit Division pointing to flaws within the current program, said Adam Proffitt, director of the budget. The audit found the inspection program did not have adequate policies to ensure consistent inspections or appropriate penalties were issued.

Although the audit noted the program did appear to conduct inspections consistently and efficiently, it did recommend additional management and staffing would improve the program. Proffit said this amendment would address the need to improve “legal enforcement” and health and safety resources.

Kelsey Olson, deputy secretary of KDA, confirmed the program has historically struggled from a funding perspective.

Still, Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, concurred with Claeys, noting the current pet animal statute took about five years to cobble together. Lots of “entanglements” were worked through, he said, and whatever was adopted in Kansas had to be in bill form and something that all could be proud of.

“There’s a lot of question marks,” Kerschen said. “The Pet Animal Advisory Board hasn’t weighed in to support this either.”

Across the rotunda, Proffit assured the House Ways and Means Committee the intention was not to undercut the legislature and input from other stakeholders.

“It’s just a matter of unfortunate timing that all the information started coming together throughout the session,” Proffit said. “It’s a good spot that we have all the details that we can present, so we wanted to make sure we put it into the (Governor’s Budget Amendments).”

Rep. Ken Rahjes, an Agra Republican, said the matter ought to have full consideration in the House Agriculture Committee, which he currently oversees. With little more than a week or so to work with, the idea of passing the provision so hastily was not one he was willing to support.

However, Rep. Sydney Carlin, a Manhattan Democrat, noted discussions about these issues have been ongoing for some time. If not addressed now, the issue must be reviewed as soon as possible, she said.

“The state of Michigan records, for economic purposes, all those sales tax and income tax and records on these breeders that (Kansas) may not be getting,” Carlin said. “We may not know the value of that industry in Kansas, and we can’t support that industry if we don’t have the inspections and the proof that our industry is up to par.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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