Key lawmaker says hemp bill regaining momentum in Kentucky House

Hemp Field

Hemp Field

By Janet Patton — jpatton1@herald-leader.com

The hemp bill is back on track.

House Agriculture and Small Business Committee Chairman Tom McKee said Monday that a proposal to regulate hemp farming in Kentucky is expected to win approval from his committee Wednesday.

“I anticipate a very strong vote. It could be a unanimous vote,” said McKee, D-Cynthiana.

His substitute bill, which would have scrapped a licensing framework for farmers and replaced it with a research project at the University of Kentucky, has been dropped, McKee said. He plans to file no amendments, signalling that the original version of Senate Bill 50 could get the up or down vote that supporters have sought.

McKee’s move came after bill sponsor Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer held a news conference last week to accuse McKee of blocking the bill. His committee heard about two hours of testimony about the bill Wednesday, but McKee rejected Republican efforts to force a vote.

McKee announced his support for the bill Monday at a lunch with about 75 farmers in Cynthiana.

“He said he would vote for it himself,” said Brian Furnish, a Cynthiana farmer who criticized McKee’s handling of the bill in committee last week.

Amendments might still be offered from committee members, McKee warned.

“I certainly can’t control the members,” he said. “There’s no 24-hour rule. I’ll take an amendment on the spot.”

Comer tweeted out Monday that he’d “had a very productive meeting” with McKee in Cynthiana and that the bill would get a vote.

“I’m very excited,” Comer said in an interview. “I feel good about its chances of passing the committee. No one’s contacted me about any amendments.”

McKee said he thinks there is widespread support for Hornback’s version of the bill, which would allow Kentucky farmers to apply for a license to grow hemp if the federal government legalizes the crop. Members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation also intend to lobby for a waiver to let the state serve as a pilot project for growing hemp, which could attract hemp processors to the state.

“I anticipate it passing. I think our members have digested and gotten the information now,” McKee said Monday. “We certainly don’t want to stand in the way of, as the commissioner says, thousands of jobs and thousands of acres of hemp being grown.”

McKee said he does not know when or if the bill will be called for a vote by the full House. Senate Bill 50 passed the Senate 31-6 last month.

Comer said the bill will pass the House if it meets no more roadblocks, but House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has expressed doubts about the legislation. Gov. Steve Beshear also has said he shares concerns raised by Kentucky State Police that allowing hemp farming will make marijuana eradication more difficult.

“If Speaker Stumbo lets the bill come for a vote, it will pass 80-20,” Comer said. “I can’t imagine, after all they went through when they tried not to let it go up for a vote last week, that they would block it again. … This is one bill everyone understands. If it does not come up for a vote, it will symbolize everything that’s wrong with Frankfort.”


IF YOU GO

House Agriculture and Small Business Committee meeting

What: Committee has hemp legislation on the agenda.

When: 8 a.m. Feb. 27

Where: Capitol Annex Room 129, 700 Capitol Ave. Loop, Frankfort

To watch online, go to: http://www.ket.org/legislature/watch_live.php?chamber=house

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl

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