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Tobacco Settlement Money Bill Advancing
Kentucky Ag Connection - 01/08/2021

A measure to move the organizations that decide how to spend much of Kentucky's share of the Tobacco Master Agreement settlement money from the governor's purview cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee this week, reported Tom Kenny of WTVQ..

The measure, known as Senate Bill 3, would place the Agricultural Development Board and the Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corporation under the Kentucky Agriculture Department. SB 3 would also abolish the Kentucky Council on Agriculture and the Kentucky Tobacco Settlement Trust Corporation.

Committee chair Sen. Paul Hornback says he filed SB 3 out of concern the groups were being politicized. He cited examples including excluding representation of production agriculture from an ag-tech advisory group.

The groups came about after the 1998 Tobacco Master Agreement. That court settlement resulted in tobacco companies paying states billions of dollars in yearly installments as compensation for taxpayer money spent in connection with tobacco-related diseases.

Hornback says those groups helped Kentucky tobacco farmers diversify. He says Kentucky went from 250,000 farms raising tobacco to less than 3,500.

Sen. Robin L. Webb says she was hesitant to dismantle something that has worked so well since its implementation in the early 2000s. She says some of Hornback's concerns could be addressed with small changes that could be accomplished with some "tweaking" of language.

Webb says the groups should remain under the purview of the executive branch because it has far more cabinets and resources to dovetail with the agriculture groups' projects or recommendations. "That's why it was in the executive branch," Webb said, adding she helped draft the legislation that created the groups.

Hornback told Kenny that HB 3 contains safeguards to prevent agriculture commissioners from also trying to politicize the groups. Those include making sure there are revolving terms on the groups' boards and the groups' funds could not be commingled with other agriculture department money.

President Pro Tempore Sen. David P. Givens says he supported SB 3 because he didn't want politics to jeopardize the record of the groups' successes. He says the tobacco settlement money had leapfrogged Kentucky's agriculture industry into the future.

"It has been maddening, saddening and frightening to see this vital piece of our agriculture fabric to be politicized," Givens said of the concerns Hornback outlined.

Majority Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer says he supported SB 3 because, among other things, it streamlines government.

"I always felt it was a duplication to have a Governor's Office of Ag Policy created by statute when we have a Department of Agriculture that is in the constitution," Thayer told WTVQ, adding that he had introduced similar legislation during prior sessions.

SB 3 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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