Hemp Legislation Causing a Stir in Closing Days of General Assembly

Frankfort, KY -  Rep. Tom McKee (D-Cynthiana), chair of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, said in a weekend interview that he will call Senate Bill (SB) 50, the industrial hemp bill, up for a vote in the next House Ag Committee meeting to be held this Wednesday.

“At this point and unless something changes, we’ll send it out of the committee and I wouldn’t be surprised if it passed unanimously. I’m going to vote for it,” he said.

That may come as a surprise to many supporters of the legislation after the events of last week. On Feb. 27 the bill came in front of the House Ag Committee. There it met with much discussion and ended without a vote, outraging proponents.

McKee met criticism for calling the proceedings out of order after a motion had been made to vote on the bill.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who has pushed hard to get the legislation passed, said he was disappointed in McKee.

“The testimony…was overwhelmingly in favor of SB 50, and we clearly had the votes to pass this bill. This is a perfect example of everything wrong with Frankfort right now,” he said.

But McKee said he clearly stated when the meeting began that the bill would be for discussion only and not for a vote. That is the reason he cited the motion as being out of order, he said.

He said specifically when starting the meeting, that the agenda would include SB50 for discussion only.

“It may include SB50 House Committee Substitute for possible action today,” McKee said recounting his instructions before the meeting.

It is the prerogative of a committee chair to call for a vote after a discussion but that is not something McKee said he did. The Committee Substitute caused much of the debate that occurred during and after the meeting.

“In our committee sub, we were going to call for the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station, if they could possibly get the permits, to grow as much as 10 acres this year. We put an emergency clause in so it could be done this year. We thought that was good. We did have a rather extensive research project attached to it and we thought that was good,” said McKee. “We thought we could improve (the bill) a little bit.”

But supporters want to see the bill passed as is and the way Sen. Paul Hornback, a farmer from Shelby County, introduced the bill.
Many of those supporters were on hand for a press conference convened by Comer the day after the House Ag Committee hearing. They included Hornback, State Senate Majority Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), and Sen. Robin Webb (D-Grayson), among others.

Brian Furnish, a member of the Kentucky Hemp Commission, a farmer, former general manager of the Burley Tobacco Cooperative and current president of his own company, the International Tobacco Trading Group was also on hand. He said the initiative has become a political issue opposed by leading state democrats.

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