FRANKFORT — In its second try, the Kentucky House agriculture committee approved a bill Wednesday creating a regulatory framework for growing hemp in Kentucky, if the federal government were to legalize it. The hemp bill—championed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—got only one no vote in the House agriculture committee.
Last week, an ag committee meeting abruptly ended after a tense exchange among lawmakers on the hemp issue.
Several House lawmakers said they voted for the bill to help support the Ag industry and to possibly create more jobs in Kentucky.
Rep. Tom McKee, a Cynthiana Democrat and the committee chairman, who heard the bill for discussion only in the first meeting, says his yes vote was for economic reasons.
"This is a jobs bill as you heard testimony last week, it's the only jobs bill in this session. So I'm voting for jobs," he says.
The hemp bill has wide support among Kentucky government leaders, including U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
But the bill could still stall on the House floor. Speaker Greg Stumbo has expressed concerns about hemp because Kentucky law enforcement—particularly Kentucky State Police—fear that hemp could complicate efforts to find the plant's illicit cousin, marijuana.
Stumbo, a former Kentucky attorney general, has not committed to the bill getting a vote by the full house.
Comer said he'll use public pressure to force a vote if House leadership holds up the bill to try and kill it as session winds down in the coming weeks.
"We'll just ask the people of Kentucky to contact their legislators and contact House leadership and ask this bill be voted on," Comer said.
Comer also said if the bill does pass the House, he doesn't believe Gov. Steve Beshear would veto the measure. Beshear has expressed concerns about hemp.