FRANKFORT — Hemp advocates turned up the political heat Thursday on state House leadership and Rep. Tom McKee, saying they have a "last chance" for a vote on Senate Bill 50 or will face the wrath of voters.
At a news conference to criticize McKee's refusal Tuesday to take a vote on the hemp bill, Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, sponsor of SB 50, said that a member of House leadership has told him privately that the bill will get another hearing and possibly a vote.
But Hornback is worried that it will come too late for action on the House floor. The Senate already passed Senate Bill 50, with a vote of 31-6.
McKee had said moments earlier that he knew of no plans to revisit a vote.
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"We're very polarized, and feelings have been hurt," McKee said. He said it would be better to "back away from it a little bit" and let the issue go for now.
McKee said he plans for the House Agriculture Committee to meet next Wednesday but could not say yet whether SB 50 would be heard. McKee said he has heard that some members are working on amendments to the bill, possibly to blend elements of his substitute with the language that passed the Senate.
A farmer from McKee's district, Brian Furnish, said that strategy might cost him at the polls in 2014.
Furnish, who said he has heard from dozens of farmers in the district critical of McKee's handling of the hemp bill, would not commit to running against him but said: "If this continues, someone good will be running to seek election" in McKee's district.
"We're running out of time in this session. We've got very few days left for this to happen," Furnish said. "I'm not committed to running. All I'm saying is that in our district, we're not very happy that our Ag Committee chairman, a farmer that represents agriculture in the state of Kentucky, is stopping the only ag jobs-creation bill in the General Assembly at this point."
Furnish and another farmer, Michael Lewis, said their fellow farmers are angry that what they see as a potential economic boon is being stifled for what they see as politics.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said it's unfortunate "that any political conversation has even come about this. The important thing about this issue isn't the governor's race in 2015 or who's going to gain politically. It's about creating jobs for Kentuckians and helping our farmers. Hopefully, Chairman McKee will get the message. If he's being led in the wrong direction by leadership, I think that he will see in the next 24 hours that he needs to: ... do what's best for his district."
A group of House Republicans who came to the news conference said they are considering options to force a vote on SB 50, including a discharge petition.
Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, said, "We're going to explore whatever avenue we can to get an up-or-down vote on the bill."