House Ag Committee members give support to hemp, but Speaker says it's done

03/06/2013 01:36 PM

The bill which lays out guidelines for Kentucky farmers to grow hemp and sets up regulatory framework within the Kentucky Agriculture Dept. passed out of committee with a 24-1 vote Wednesday morning. But by the early afternoon, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the bill “has got a lot of problems” and was going nowhere.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters before the House convened at 2 p.m. that because the bill, Senate Bill 50, would create new fees to pay for the regulation and testing of industrial hemp, that it was a revenue-generating bill that needed to start in the House. Stumbo said he didn’t know whether the bill would be sent to a committee to rot for the remaining days of the session but said it wouldn’t get a vote on the floor.

“I think probably it wouldn’t hurt to take a step back, and we’ll take a little bit more study,” Stumbo said.

Earlier, the House Committee for Agriculture and Small Business took no testimony on the bill.

Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, did speak to the panel about what happened in the committee the week before and defended his actions. He said a committee substitute is all part of the process and that he simply ran out of time in the committee room to allow for a vote on the full bill.

McKee ultimately voted in favor of the full bill, and said he did because he sees the potential for job creation an industrial hemp crop could have in Kentucky and the boost to agriculture. But McKee — a farmer himself —went even further saying if the government allows, he might be first in line to grow the plant.

“I could be the first one to sign up if I can get a permit,” McKee told Comer.

Several members of the House panel took turns before voting on the bill to thank McKee for allowing the vote, and voicing their support for the committee chairman.

In the audience, sat Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, along with members of the Industrial Hemp Commission, members of the Kentucky State Police who have opposed the legislation, and a farmer from McKee’s home district.

Brian Furnish, a farmer in Cynthiana, has leaned on McKee to call for a vote on the full bill and even issued an ultimatum to him: he’d find opposition to McKee in the next election if he didn’t call the bill.

The farmer took to the table after the vote to name the members of the Industrial Hemp Commission and urge members to “do all you can possible to move this forward and get a full vote on the House floor.”

Furnish, with a grin on his face, told McKee he would have to fight with him for the first permit to grow hemp in Kentucky.

Comer told reporters after the meeting that he feels good about the bills chances on the floor, but that he has not been promised a vote.

“This bill came out of the Senate very strong, it just came out of the House Agriculture Committee very strong. It’s going to be very difficult for the House not to let this bill be voted on now,” Comer said.

Watch the full exchange with reporters here:


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