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Hemp Supporters remain hopeful

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Agriculture Commissioner James Comer today told reporters he’s hopeful the industrial hemp bill will get a vote in the Kentucky House of Representatives after the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Paul Hornback, reported that a House leader assured him Senate Bill 50 would get another hearing.

“We’re still hopeful this bill can be brought back up and the people’s voices will be heard by the legislature,” Commissioner Comer said. “That is the role of the General Assembly.”

The measure, which would set up an administrative framework for industrial hemp production in Kentucky, was debated in the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee on Wednesday when committee Chairman Tom McKee blocked a vote on the bill and abruptly recessed the meeting. Rep. McKee promised to reconvene the committee following Wednesday’s session of the full House but instead adjourned the meeting from his desk in the House chamber.

“I was a little embarrassed by the process yesterday,” Commissioner Comer said. “What do you tell people from out of state who come in [and say], ‘Is this how you all do business in Kentucky?’ I said, ‘No.’ It’s just a little glitch. We’ll get over it, and hopefully we can get this bill passed and we can help our farmers in Kentucky and we can create jobs for Kentuckians.”

“I think it’s obvious that games have been played on Senate Bill 50,” Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said. “I think Senate Bill 50 is ready to go. We’re not legalizing hemp. All we’re doing is setting up a regulatory framework so, if Washington, D.C. grants a waiver, we’re ready to go so we can be first. So Kentucky, for once, can be first.”

Democratic Sen. Robin Webb, a co-sponsor of SB 50, said there’s still time to consider the bill in the short legislative session. “I respect House leadership,” Webb said. “I was part of that chamber for a long time. I know Rep. McKee’s commitment to agriculture and wanting to do the right thing. I hope we can proceed in a bipartisan manner.”

Webb recalled that she co-sponsored legislation filed by former Democratic Rep. Joe Barrows when both served in the House a decade ago to begin the process of restoring industrial hemp production in Kentucky.

Tobacco farmer Brian Furnish, a member of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission from Chairman McKee’s district, said hemp could enable farmers in central and eastern Kentucky to make up income lost since most burley tobacco production has shifted to the western part of the state.

“A bipartisan bill that had bipartisan support has now become a partisan political football, if you will,” Furnish said.  “In our district, we're not very happy that our Ag Committee chairman, a farmer who represents agriculture in the state of Kentucky, is stopping the only ag jobs-creation bill in the General Assembly."

Commissioner Comer said he believes SB 50 has the votes to pass the 100-member chamber. It cleared the Senate in a 31-6 landslide.


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