A proposal to regulate hemp farming in Kentucky that appeared dead received an 11th hour reprieve from House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins late Tuesday night.
Adkins announced just before 10 p.m. that he was filing an amendment to Senate Bill 50 that would tie potential hemp production to more research and current tax incentives for energy production. He said work on the bill would continue over the next 10 days, and then be considered by both chambers on March 25 or March 26.
The original version of SB 50 would set up a licensing framework for Kentucky farmers to grow hemp if federal restrictions are lifted. The bill, pushed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, won Senate approval last month but stalled in the House. It had broad bipartisan support but was opposed by several law enforcement agencies.
Adkins said he met with Comer and many other advocates and opponents of the bill and "tried to really craft a path forward that hopefully will ... put a policy in place that really gets bang for the buck."
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But Comer's chief of staff, Holly Harris VonLuehrte, said the commissioner was "blindsided" by Adkins' announcement. Comer did meet with Adkins on Friday but she said there was no specific discussion of an amendment to the bill.
"We haven't seen any of this; we've been trying to call the floor leader all day long and could never get any calls back," she said. "I don't understand why we can't talk about these things before they go to the floor and ambush us with them."
VonLuehrte said she hadn't seen the amendment but was troubled by a provision that calls for a five-year pilot project.
"In five years, 49 other states will be growing hemp," she said.
The tumult over SB 50 has "led to a public revolt," she said. "SB 50 has come to symbolize everything that's wrong with Frankfort."
Provisions of Adkins' amendment include:
■ Moving the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission from the state Department of Agriculture to the University of Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
■ Establishing a five year industrial research program through licensing hemp growers in demonstration projects organized and managed by the Kentucky State Police;
■ Registering industrial hemp processors;
■ Coordinating with UK's agriculture department and Center for Applied Energy Research regarding the use of industrial hemp in new energy technologies;
■ Creating tax credits for growers and processors of industrial hemp, including credits for the purchase of machinery, seed or fertilizer for growing industrial hemp.