By RONNIE ELLIS
The House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday passed Senate Bill 50 to provide a “framework” for the cultivation of hemp after days of pressure on the committee chairman, Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana.
But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, seems in no mood to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, and pushed by Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, would set up regulations for growing industrial hemp if the federal government legalizes the product.
It easily passed the Senate but isn’t supported by Stumbo, who says current law already positions Kentucky to move immediately if the federal government relaxes or ends its ban on growing hemp.
Last week McKee denied a vote on the bill in his committee, instead planning to offer a committee substitute to SB 50 for a vote.
He began that meeting saying SB 50 had been scheduled “for discussion only.” But when Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, moved for a vote on the original bill, McKee recessed the meeting and subsequently adjourned the committee when it reconvened on the House floor that afternoon.
Supporters of the bill reacted angrily, accusing McKee of obstructionism and politics, and apparently mobilized farmers in McKee’s district to call him in support of the bill.
So Wednesday, the committee again took up the bill, but not before McKee made a five-minute speech about the legislative process and again declaring last week’s motion was out of order.
“I did not refuse to allow a vote that was in order,” McKee said. “I’d announced plainly (the bill) was for discussion only and that means no vote would be taken at that time.”
McKee reviewed his history of supporting hemp as an alternative agriculture product while several other committee members decried how McKee had been characterized in the fight over hemp.
“If industrial hemp can offer new opportunities for our farmers and create thousands of jobs for our economy (both claims of hemp supporters), then this committee is ready to vote on that proposed legislation,” McKee said. “So a motion on Senate Bill 50 is in order.”
The bill easily passed, with only Republican Tommy Turner of Somerset voting no. Several Democrats who voted for the bill, however, qualified their votes by saying they hoped Comer and Hornback would agree to work with law enforcement to address some of their concerns about the difficulty in distinguishing hemp from marijuana.
Read the full report in Thursday's print or e-edition of the Glasgow Daily Times.