Final hours yield passage of hemp and military voting bills but not coal county scholarships

03/27/2013 01:08 AM

A frenetic flurry of deals and votes capped off the 2013 legislative session, and two bills left for dead earlier in the day made it through both chambers at the very end.

Moments before midnight Tuesday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo signed off on the final version of Senate Bill 1, which is meant to make it easier for military personnel deployed overseas to vote via absentee ballots. The bill was sponsored by Republican Senate President Robert Stivers in one of the sessions many bipartisan efforts.

The measure allows clerks to send ballots to overseas personnel electronically but doesn’t allow them to return their ballots the same way. Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes championed the bill but wanted a provision to allow deployed military personnel to file their absentee ballots electronically. Many county clerks and some lawmakers weren’t comfortable with the security of that method.

Grimes issued a statement after the vote:

The past six months have been about Kentucky’s 65,000 active military members, their families and Kentucky’s 350,000 veterans. Today is one step forward in ensuring their voices are heard. I saw firsthand in the Middle East our military’s commitment to the Commonwealth and our nation. I respect them deeply, and as Chief Election Official I will continue to work on their behalf to ensure no military or overseas voter ever has to question whether his or her vote counts. I’m proud that we have started this conversation and taken the first step in this critical legislation.

Hemp bill survives

Meanwhile, a deal on a bill to set up a framework for regulation of an industrial hemp industry in Kentucky literally came together in the 11th hour.

House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer agreed to a compromise shortly before 11 p.m.

Law enforcement agencies can help conduct background checks of farmers seeking licenses to grow the crop once the federal government gives the OK. But the rest of the regulation and testing will be handled through the state Department of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky, Adkins told reporters.

Comer watched with Hornback in the side of the House chamber as the House — which had been the roadblock for the bill — passed 88-4 around 11:20 p.m. The four no votes were Democratic Rep. Hubie Collins and Republican Reps. David Meade, Ken Upchurch and Tommy Turner. The Senate followed suit 35-1 with Sen. Albert Robinson of London the lone no vote.

The measure keeps the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission attached to the state Ag Department but bumps the commissioner from being chairman of the commission to vice chairman. The commission members must elect a new chairman.

“This historic legislation puts Kentucky in position to be first in line if and when the federal government legalizes production of industrial hemp,” Comer said. “By passing this bill, the General Assembly has signaled that Kentucky is serious about restoring industrial hemp production to the Commonwealth and doing it in the right way. That will give Kentucky’s congressional delegation more leverage when they seek a federal waiver allowing Kentucky farmers to grow hemp.”

Just short of time

But time ran out for a measure that would make permanent a scholarship program aimed at students in coal producing counties.

The measure got tied to a bill increasing the penalties for trafficking heroin. But that bill didn’t get from the Senate to the House before the clock struck midnight.

That left a frustrated Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, pledging to take up the issue in the 2014 session. Combs buzzed between the Senate and House chambers several times during the evening trying to save the bill but to no avail.

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