McKee wants to vote on substitute bill that calls for university field trials
(Editor’s note: Late Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer will conduct a press conference Thursday at 11:45, where he, Sen. Paul Hornback and other lawmakers are “set to fire on SB 50 gamesmanship.” A press release from Comer’s office says he will make an important announcement about the industrial hemp bill.)
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 27, 2013) — Industrial hemp supporters were delivered a blow to the stomach today when the chairman of the House agriculture and small business committee refused to allow a vote on a bill that establishes the framework for Kentucky to grow the crop.
During the hearing, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer — along with Nutiva hemp foods CEO John Roulac and farmer Mike Lewis — testified in support of Senate Bill 50, industrial hemp legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville.
After nearly two hours of debate, Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield, called for a vote and several committee members seconded the motion. But committee chairman Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, ruled DeCesare out of order, saying the hearing was for discussion only. McKee refused to recognize the motions and adjourned the meeting.
Amid boos, McKee said he would reconvene the committee for further action on the bill at 4:30 p.m., but he later canceled the meeting and adjourned the committee at his desk.
Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, asked McKee whether the committee would vote on the industrial hemp bill during the planned afternoon meeting, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. McKee said he would call a vote on his committee substitute. McKee’s substitute bill removes the framework for licensing farmers to grow hemp if the federal government lifts its restrictions on the crop, and instead calls for field trials by the University of Kentucky.
McKee, a farmer, said his proposed changes would be a more aggressive way to promote industrial hemp, which thrived in Kentucky generations ago until it was classified a controlled substance because of its relation to marijuana. His substitute legislation would enable researchers to seek a federal permit to allow experimental hemp production in hopes of having a crop this year, McKee told reporters.
McKee would not directly answer questions about whether he would call a vote on the original industrial hemp bill if his substitute fails in committee, Patton said. He denied that House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who has voiced concerns about the legislation, had pressured him to kill the bill.
Stumbo has said he worries hemp farming would impede marijuana eradication efforts in Kentucky. He also has doubts about market demand for hemp.
“The testimony today was overwhelmingly in favor of SB 50, and we clearly had the votes to pass this bill,” Comer said. “This is a perfect example of everything wrong with Frankfort right now.”
Everyone at the hearing finally understood the intent of the bill, he said, “which is to position Kentucky with a responsible program that could achieve a waiver from the federal government.”
“We were ready to put Kentucky on the forefront for jobs, and Chairman McKee just pulled the rug out from under all of us,” he said. “This is disrespectful to all the people who put a year of hard work into this bill, including our federal delegation and military veterans who deserve more job opportunities.”
Comer says reintroducing hemp to Kentucky would give farmers a new crop and create processing jobs to turn the fiber and seeds into products ranging from paper to biofuels.
Comer said he will get together with Hornback and the Republican and Democrat supporters of SB 50 to determine the next step.
Stumbo told the Associated Press he is asking Attorney General Jack Conway to determine whether long-dormant state laws dealing with the crop would already address regulation if the federal hemp ban is lifted. If it does, then lawmakers should focus on the study suggested by McKee, Stumbo told the AP in an email.
The Senate passed the bill, 31-6.
About the industrial hemp bill
Under Senate Bill 50, the state Department of Agriculture would be responsible for monitoring industrial hemp. Farmers wishing to grow hemp in Kentucky would register with the department and submit to criminal background checks before receiving licenses. Licenses would be renewed yearly.
State and local law enforcement would receive notification of licenses with exact GPS coordinates of hemp crop locations. Crops not used for research purposes would be at least 10 acres in size.
The bill also requires documentation from a licensed hemp grower when transporting hemp from a field or other production site. Industrial hemp can be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics, cosmetics and other merchandise.
Law enforcement opposition
Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education), the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association, the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police and other police organizations have expressed opposition to the industrial hemp measure.
Law enforcement officials have said industrial hemp production in Kentucky is not economically sound, would impose an unnecessary financial burden on the state, and could facilitate future efforts to legalize its cousin – marijuana. The production of hemp also could impede law enforcement’s marijuana eradication efforts, they say.
Gov. Steve Beshear told reporters last week that lawmakers should carefully examine the concerns of Kentucky law enforcement officials, given the drug abuse epidemic here.
In a press release issued Wednesday, Comer’s office said members of law enforcement “who testified on the bill actually conceded that SB 50 addresses many of the concerns they have raised.”