The Kansas Senate gave initial approval Tuesday to a pair of bills relating to expansion of the state's Rural Opportunity Zone program.

The program provides student loan forgiveness and income tax waivers to those who relocate to rural areas.

About 80 counties already fall under the program. Proposed legislation would add eight counties to the list and extend the program by five years to 2026. Both bills advanced on voice votes.

The goal is to attract young workers to areas that have struggled with population growth.

Sen. Larry Alley, R-Winfield, said the ROZ program differs from the state's other economic incentive tools, which offer tax dollars to corporations.

"This program, the benefits go to employees," Alley said.

If passed into law, Senate Bill 135 would add Atchison, Cowley, Crawford, Dickinson, Ford, Franklin, Miami and Pottawatomie counties to the list of 77 counties already designated as Rural Opportunity Zones.

Several Democrats expressed concern with the expansion of the program beyond its original intent. Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, questioned whether it was acceptable to just add counties with political muscle in the Legislature.

"Rural is the magic word," Haley said, "but what is the magic word? Where is that defined?"