Hemp negotiations heading for rocks

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2013 

FRANKFORT — Supporters of legislation to license Kentucky farmers to grow hemp said the latest proposal by House Democratic leaders contains troubling provisions that could be deal-breakers.

A fourth version of the amendment proposed by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, D-Paris, would move much of the oversight for hemp to the Kentucky State Police, who have opposed hemp production.

Earlier this month, Adkins attached such language to Senate Bill 50, and he and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, have been negotiating a potential compromise.

But late Monday, Hornback said he had broken off negotiations on the hemp bill because "what they are trying to do would have hampered efforts for hemp to become a legal crop."

Hornback said that by putting opponents to the crop in control of licensing "that's not favorable to the crop."

But he shied away from calling it dead. "They could pass Senate Bill 50 as sent. Or try to pass an amendment. But (House) Speaker (Greg) Stumbo would have to call the bill. ... It would be a shame for it to die."

Adkins said late Monday that he was "shocked and disappointed" to learn that Hornback was backing away.

"I thought we had good discussions and had agreement on everything, with a few minor language changes to come," Adkins said. He said he thought the amendments would have strengthened Kentucky's case for a federal waiver or permit to grow hemp.

Adkins said he was trying to reach Hornback and may yet bring the hemp bill to a vote on the House floor. The bill passed the Senate last month.

Tom Murphy, spokesman for Vote Hemp, a lobbying group that has monitored the legislation in Kentucky, said: "The fourth draft of the House leadership amendment to SB 50 still hands way too many oversight powers to the KSP.

"Why would one want to give such powers to KSP given their vehement opposition to hemp farming and their stated misinformation on the subject? ... SB 50 as is looks like the best way to go. It's well drafted and comparable with other states' legislation and laws."

Holly VonLuehrte, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, said there also are concerns about unfunded mandates made to the University of Kentucky for research projects. The proposed language removes the hemp commission from the state Agriculture Department and attaches it to UK's research center.

Comer, who currently heads the hemp commission, would be become vice chairman.

VonLuehrte said Comer "is willing to step aside as chair, but is unwilling to accept punitive action toward the department or the hemp commission."

In a statement, Comer said: "We are chasing our tails with all these drafts. SB 50 is a simple bill and would pass easily. How much time and effort has been spent toward derailing this simple, very popular bill? And why?"

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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