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Amended Hemp Bill Passes Kentucky Legislature; Deal Also Reached on Military Voting

Kentucky lawmakers have achieved a compromise that would set up a regulatory framework should the federal government legalize industrial hemp.

The so-called hemp bill—Senate Bill 50—gives control of licensing of future hemp farmers to the Industrial Hemp Commission, but allow the Kentucky State Police to do background checks on the farmers.

The state Department of Agriculture would be given many administrative roles for licensing hemp farmers and the University of Kentucky would be charged with researching the issue.

The plan was agreed upon in the final hour of the 2013 General Assembly session. House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins says it's a good compromise.

"As long as that (federal) ban is there it's an illegal crop, so we have to ask for a waiver first. And then if the ban is lifted, then farmers will be able to go ahead and grow the crop under whatever federal regulations through our framework," said Adkins, a Sandy Hook Democrat.

Industrial hemp has gained support in recent months among Kentucky's federal delegation, including Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell.

Supporters argue that industrial hemp would benefit Kentucky's economy. Opponents argue that hemp could hamper drug enforcement efforts.

Under the approved legislation, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—the leading advocate for hemp in Kentucky—would step down to vice chair of the Hemp Commission.

Regardless, Comer said he's excited to work to get a federal waiver to grow hemp immediately.

"Pretty much Senate Bill 50 in its original form passed with just a few minor changes, so I'm very excited and our next step now is to go to Washington, D.C., let Congressman Yarmuth and Senator Paul lead a delegation and, hopefully, we will be granted a waiver to do a pilot project very soon," Comer said.. 

The deal was struck in the last hour of the 2013 legislative session.

Kentucky military personnel serving overseas will be able to get ballots electronically under legislation approved late Tuesday in the Kentucky General Assembly. How they send them back is still to be determined.

Deal Reached on Kentucky Military Voting Legislation, Passes in Final Minutes of Session

Working until the last minute of the 2013 session, legislators went back to the original Senate version  of the military voting bill that allowed for electronic sending of ballots to overseas military, but snail mail return of the ballot.

The legislation also establishes a task force to study electronic returns—the preferred method of Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. The task force will address safety concerns with that option.

"We value our young men and women in uniform that are stationed overseas and you know we hold them in high regard," said state Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Lebanon Republican. "We also hold in high regard the integrity of the voting process. So you just want to make sure we get this right."

Grimes said she's glad to have taken the first step in the process and will continue working on the issue.

"Today is one step forward in ensuring their voices are heard," she said. "I saw firsthand in the Middle East our military’s commitment to the Commonwealth and our nation. I respect them deeply, and as Chief Election Official I will continue to work on their behalf to ensure no military or overseas voter ever has to question whether his or her vote counts. I'm proud that we have started this conversation and taken the first step in this critical legislation.

The bill was signed and sent to Gov. Steve Beshear  just before midnight on the last day of the legislative session.