FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House Agriculture Committee chairman blocked a vote on the hemp bill on Wednesday morning after a tense exchange with a Republican supporter of the legislation.
The hemp bill would create a regulatory framework in Kentucky, should the federal government legalize it.
Rep. Tom McKee, the ag committee chairman and a Cynthiana Democrat, wanted to amend the bill to turn it into a study, which the bill’s supporters oppose. In McKee’s substitute legislation, the University of Kentucky would apply for a waiver to grow hemp and test its viability in Kentucky for one year, before reporting its findings to lawmakers.
The Republican-controlled state Senate passed the hemp bill 31-6 earlier in February.
UK is already doing a study on hemp’s economic viability, but the research doesn’t include plating the crop.
After 80 minutes of testimony and debate on hemp, the committee meeting ended tensely when the time came for a vote.
McKee called for a vote on the substitute bill calling for a study. But Rep. Jim DeCesare, a Republican from Rockfield, at the same time called for a vote on the original hemp bill.
The lawmakers argued—and McKee ruled out of order DeCeasare’s motion on the original bill and abruptly ended the meeting without any votes cast on hemp.
McKee told committee members that they may vote on his committee substitute later, but he did not seem inclined to vote on the hemp bill as is.
“We’re not guaranteeing anything,” McKee said. “No, at this point we certainty can’t guarantee anything. In the legislative process you can’t guarantee anything.”
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—the leading advocate for the hemp bill—said the untouched bill has the votes to pass committee and the full House, but that McKee iand others are blocking the issuing from reaching the full House floor.
Besides Comer, most of Kentucky’s federal delegation—including both U.S. senators, both Republicans, and Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth—favor hemp. Comer testified in the House hearing for the original bill.
But law enforcement officials, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Gov. Steve Beshear oppose the hemp bill. The Kentucky State Police has been the most vocal opposition to hemp.