The General Assembly finished out the 2013 legislative session by tackling the public pension problem and passing a framework bill for industrial hemp in the late hours of Tuesday.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer considers Senate Bill 50, the industrial hemp bill, the first step for Kentucky emerging as a leader in the industrial hemp industry.
“We negotiated for two solid days and some of the plans weren’t realistic,” Comer said. “The Kentucky State Police commissioner said so many bad things about the bill. I got frustrated and left. They called me with another proposal, I came back and agreed to the amendments and it passed.”
Comer said the amendments to Senate Bill 50 wouldn’t set the program or hinder him from getting a waiver for Kentucky.
“The people of Kentucky put a lot of pressure on legislators to get this to pass,” Comer said. “There were a lot of arguments behind the scenes but we got an agreement and can move forward with the waiver.”
Comer said he would lead a delegation to Washington with Reps. John Yarmuth (D-Louisville and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Bowling Green). The delegation will ask the government to grant a waiver to Kentucky to legally grow industrial hemp.
“John Yarmuth will lead the delegation we assume he will have better relations with the Obama administration,” Comer said. “Sen. Paul and former state treasurer John Miller who also sits on the hemp commission will go there with Sen. McConnell with letters of support from CEOs who want to do business in Kentucky.”
Comer said Caudill Seed in Louisville wanted to crush the seed and process it for the food and health industry. Vaughn Tobacco Company in Versailles want to process the stalk and stem of the hemp plant for fiber. Comer said there were other companies interested, but he wants to caution farmers from just jumping into the market.
“I encourage farmers to not grow any hemp that don’t have a contract with these companies,” Comer said. “I don’t want to see an overstock and we want to make sure we have enough processors across the state. I think a waiver could be granted as early as this summer and everything could be in place by next spring.”
Comer said any university wishing to research the crop would do so with their own money once the federal ban or waiver is granted. The Kentucky State Police will oversee background checks of anyone seeking a license to grow industrial hemp.
“I don’t want the cost of the license to be anything but the cost of background check,” Comer said. “We don’t want to see any financial hardships set because of industrial hemp. My goal, and Sen. Paul’s, goal is to regulate this and then when the federal ban is lifted let it go to the private sector like tobacco. We are against excessive regulation but because it’s illegal now you have to have a strict regulatory framework.”
Comer will serve as Vice President of the Hemp Commission, which was one of the conditions of the new amendment.
“If I have to step down to get an agreement, I am fine with that,” Comer said. “There are plenty of good people on the commission who can serve as chairman.”
Rep. Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) and Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) are credited with getting the bill passed in the final minutes of the session. Senate Bill 50 passed 88-4 in the House and 35-1 in the Senate.
The $33 billion-dollar pension problem passed with an annual $100 million projected payment to get back on track.
Henry County State Rep. Rick Rand and State Sen. Ernie Harris were pleased at the outcome.
“It was a great victory for all of us to get the public pension problem solved in the House and Senate,” Harris said. “We reduced the individual tax credit from $20 to $10 and several million in tax neutral ways to meet the $100 million needed to fund it annually.”
Rand explained the funding also came from holding larger corporations more accountable.
“The Revenue Cabinet were given more authority to collect on taxes owed,” Rand said. “Larger corporations would take consulting fees as a tax write off and not be reported as profit so we have limited that amount so that will make up a third of the $100 million we need annually. The personal tax credit you get that most people don’t know about is $20 for filing your taxes and changing that to $10 will also make up a third.”
Rand also explained that when citizens trade in an old car for a new car they will pay the full sales tax. Beginning July 2014, if a citizen trades in a $10,000 car for a $30,000 new car consumers will only have tot pay the difference as a revenue neutral offset.