Morgan Watkins, Louisville Courier Journal Published 3:20 p.m. ET March 20, 2018
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says legislation that would legalize medical marijuana is being held hostage by the state House of Representatives’ Republican leadership.
House Bill 166, which is sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, would let qualifying patients diagnosed with certain health conditions use medical marijuana, although limits would apply to patients and to the people and businesses growing and selling the drug.
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on HB 166 earlier this month but decided to pass over the proposal – a move that allows it to reconsider and rule on the matter later on in the 2018 session, which ends in mid-April. But the number of days during which the legislature can pass laws is dwindling.
“House Bill 166 continues to gain bipartisan support. One in four members of the House are now sponsors,” Grimes, a Democrat, wrote Tuesday afternoon in a post on her official Facebook page. “These legislators realize medical cannabis can help save lives and provide new funding to Kentucky so we don’t have to balance budgets on the backs of our teachers and public employees. Yet, GOP House Leadership is holding the bill hostage in the Judiciary Committee.”
Grimes wrote that the bill’s sponsors shouldn’t have to rely on a discharge petition – which can be filed in advance of an attempt to take a bill from a committee – in order to a force a vote on “something an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians support.”
“If the GOP House Leadership refuses to call a vote, constituents are only left to wonder what motivates them to ignore the will of the people,” she wrote.
State Rep. Joe Fischer, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told Courier Journal the committee’s members already voted on HB 166 when they decided to pass over it.
Fischer said he would talk to committee members but noted that he hasn’t seen any amendments to the original bill, which did not have enough support to get a ‘yes’ vote from the group. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, HB 166 wasn’t on the agenda for the committee’s Wednesday meeting, according to Fischer.
“I’ve been accused of holding it hostage, but there was a vote on it,” said Fischer, R-Fort Thomas. “Right now … it was to pass over the bill.”
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, made the motion to pass over HB 166 on March 7. At the time, he said he wanted to help improve the measure and bring it back for consideration before the session ends. Since then, he has become a sponsor of the bill.
Grimes issued a separate statement last week that said the medical marijuana legislation had been revised. Jaime Montalvo, of the nonprofit organization Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana, said he has been working with sponsors of HB 166 and a substitute version of the bill is ready.
Rep. John Sims Jr., D-Flemingsburg, said he did file a discharge petition Tuesday, which was signed by 27 representatives.
“It’s an important bill that has lots of momentum throughout the whole state,” Sims said.
Discharge petitions can prompt the full chamber to vote on whether a committee has held a particular bill “for an unreasonable time,” according to the House’s procedural rules. (HB 166 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee for review in mid-January.)
If a majority of the House agrees a bill has been held too long, the legislation then can be released from that committee. That doesn’t guarantee it will be debated and voted upon by the full House, though.
House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, said Grimes’ assertion that House leaders are holding medical marijuana legislation hostage is “absolutely not true” and suggested Grimes study up on the legislative process.
When asked if House leadership would be interested in bringing the medical marijuana bill to the floor of the chamber for a vote, Osborne said he’s sure they would take appropriate action if it were discharged from the committee.
On Wednesday afternoon, however, Sims — a key sponsor of the bill — said it’s highly likely HB 166 will die when the 2018 session officially ends next month.
“There’s not enough time left to get it through both chambers,” Sims said.
If the bill stalls out as Sims expects, he said legislation to legalize medical marijuana will be reintroduced when the legislature reconvenes next January for the 2019 session.
“We’re not giving up, and the fight will continue,” he said, noting the need to maintain the momentum that has built behind the push for medical marijuana in Kentucky.
Morgan Watkins: 502-582-4502; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @MorganWatkins. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/morganw
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