Capitol Comments

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Can voters in California dictate how Midwestern farmers house their hens? If the farmers want to sell eggs to California, the answer could be “yes” — unless an appeal filed by Iowa, Nebraska and four other states is successful. Beginning Jan. 1, egg farmers in California must comply with Proposition 2: a new law, approved by voters in 2008, under which hens must be able to stand up, turn around and spread their wings without touching their cage or another bird.

The ballot initiative came in response to criticism of conventional cages. According to groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, which organized the effort to put the measure on the ballot, the cages are cruel. Critics also say the stress and confinement make hens more susceptible to diseases, including salmonella.

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In Kansas, some visitors come to the State Fair for the carnival rides, others for the food, music and entertainment. But organizers and legislators alike also don’t lose sight of one of the fair’s more important missions — as a source of boundless agricultural education for the young and old alike.

The annual event is promoted as the “state’s largest classroom,” and as Kansas Sen. Larry Powell notes, legislators themselves are among those getting lessons as part of an event that has them team up with a 4-H member who teaches them the finer points of cattle showmanship. A contest is then held, “much to the delight of the crowd,” Powell says. Illinois has a similar event with legislators driving harness horses in a race.
 

Beyond the fun and education, state fairs can also help boost the economies of host cities and surrounding regions. Some studies, for example, have put the impact at over $100 million a year. But state fairs also cost money to operate and maintain, and in recent years, states in the Midwest have had to grapple with this question: Should tax dollars be used to help keep the fairs going?
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Eight years ago, a statewide ballot initiative ended the hunting of mourning doves in Michigan. Ever since then, Matt Evans of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs notes, sportsmen in the state have been concerned about what animal hunts might be banned next.

They turned those concerns into action this year, resulting in legislative enactment this summer of a citizen-initiated statute. The law requires future decisions on hunting, fishing and trapping of different species to be controlled by the seven-member, governor-appointed Natural Resources Commission.

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Will industrial hemp eventually become a viable cash crop for the Midwest’s agricultural producers and rural communities? Three states in the region have taken initial steps to begin exploring the possibility, and the new farm bill is also opening up the opportunity for research and pilot programs across the country.
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Bees are in trouble. The major pollinator of our fruit, vegetable and nut crops, they are also responsible for such agricultural staples as alfalfa, canola and sunflower. What role can states and provinces play in helping save the population of their — and the continent’s and the world’s — pollinators?
The region’s legislators explored this question in July during a session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee meeting, and learned how one state, Minnesota, already took significant steps in 2014.

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