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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Farm bill and industrial hemp did not mix
well in the Senate, now it’s the House’s turn

By Tim Thornberry
KyForward correspondent

It was exactly one year ago this month when headlines across the country read, “Full Senate to take up farm bill.” And although the Senate did indeed pass a bill, the House failed to do the same and the agriculture community ended up with an extension, as it so often does.


(Photo by Tim Thornberry)

The headlines are the same now as this year’s version of the bill came up for a vote in the Senate. And again they passed a similar piece of legislation as the 2012 bill. But not all were happy with the way a vote came to be.

Last week, with some amendments still pending, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called for a cloture vote which essentially meant no further amendments would be considered before a full vote.

Reid said in a statement, “Last year the House of Representatives failed to take up the Senate’s bipartisan farm bill. I hope this year Republican leadership will allow a vote in the House on the Senate’s bipartisan legislation, which will create jobs, cut taxpayer subsidies and reduce the deficit by $23 billion.”

He also said that while both parties were unable to reach an agreement to consider a finite number of amendments to this measure, he was optimistic the bill would pass on a strong, bipartisan vote in the Senate, as it did last year.

It did just that with a 66-27 vote (there were seven “not voting”) but without the support from Kentucky’s two senators.

Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted “nay,” and Sen. Rand Paul, listed as “not voting,” have supported an industrial hemp amendment, something that did not make it into farm bill. The senators would like to see hemp removed from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Controlled Substance list, enabling states to once again grow the crop.

Before the final vote, the two released a joint statement in which they voiced their disappointment in the lack of consideration for an industrial hemp amendment. They also stated that this bill needed serious improvement.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who worked to get state hemp legislation through this year’s General Assembly, said it looked as though what is happening in Washington right now is exactly what happened in Frankfort during the legislative session; most people supported it but many didn’t want to vote for it.

“It looks like we’re running into the same problems in Washington that we ran into in Frankfort because it’s a new issue there are always one or two people who are against it or one or two groups who are against it. You have some senators there who just don’t want to take a vote on this issue,” he said. “There were over 100 amendments to the Farm Bill and they just don’t want to take votes on tough issues so they moved to end the debate and immediately called for a vote and that appears to me what happened. I spoke to a lot of senators and congressmen that were supportive of this issue.”

Comer recently made a trip to Washington trying to drum up support in allowing industrial hemp to once again be grown in the country. (See KyForward story here.)

Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995.



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