OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill opening the way for commercial production of industrial hemp went to Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday after winning the House of Representatives’ approval without a dissenting vote.
Senate Bill 868, by Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, authorizes the state Department of Agriculture to take develop and administer a production program under the 2018 federal farm bill.
Under questioning, Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, the House sponsor, agreed his first industrial hemp bill was met by a bewildered silence several years ago.
“For this, I’ve probably had calls from 15 members,” Echols said. “I had a call today from Commerce Secretary (Sean) Kouplen telling me to hurry and get this done.”
Industrial hemp, a close cousin of marijuana but with only the merest trace of the active ingredient THC, was outlawed in the United States after World War II and only became fully legal with the 2018 farm bill. Many farmers hope it will prove a lifesaving cash crop in the face of low grain and soybean prices.
“Farmers in western Oklahoma are very excited about this,” said Rep. Kenton Patzkowski, R-Balko.
Industrial hemp, which is legal in Canada, most of Europe and Australia, can be used in many products, including paper, cosmetics and construction materials.
The recent spike in interest, however, has been driven by cannabidiol, or CBD. Extracted from hemp seed oil, CBD has been shown to have medicinal value, especially for treating certain seizures. More widespread applications have become popular, although their effectiveness is unclear.
Also Thursday, the House passed and sent to the governor a major overhaul of the small loan business. SB 720, by Sen. James Leewright, R-Sapulpa, limits the amount of debt incurred through loans covered by the legislation, the terms of the loans and the interest rates on them. It also bans fee-based small loans.
On the final day Senate bills could be heard in heard in House committees, more than two dozen were approved. At least one notable one — Senate Bill 1, by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City — was not taken up. That bill, creating a legislative budget and oversight office, is one of Treat’s pet projects. Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, has a similar bill that was to be heard Thursday afternoon in a Senate committee, but that committee meeting was canceled after Treat’s was laid over in the House Rules Committee.
Echols, the House Majority Floor leader, said the parties involved are in “fruitful negotiations” on an “agreed bill.”
The Rules Committee did adopt around 20 measures, including a school calendar bill with a $1,200 teacher raise tacked on.
It was unclear why the raises were added to SB 441, by Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore. The raises were approved by the House in an earlier bill and need only a Senate floor vote to go to the governor.
SB 441’s House sponsor, Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, said it was inserted to emphasize to the Senate the importance the House puts on the raises.
The main part of the bill gives school districts the option of meeting 180 days during a school year or 1,080 hours over 165 days. Meeting fewer than 165 days — Baker said some met as few as 137 days in recent years — would require a waiver from the state Department of Education.
Also advanced by Rules:
• SB 361, by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, which seeks to preserve free speech on campus by outlawing “free speech zones,” which supporters of the measure and others like it say are the opposite of what the name implies.
They say colleges and universities limit speech too much, and that conservative speakers and ideas in particular are being squelched.
• SB 279, by Paxton, allowing the appointment of U.S. senators in the event of vacancies, under certain conditions.
• SB 101, by Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, who took over a bill that lifted a blanket ban on certain professional licenses for felons, and turned it into a repeal of the Massage Therapy Act. The Massage Therapy Act was passed in 2016 at the behest of law enforcement officials battling sex trafficking in massage parlors.
In practice, it’s played out in a rather complicated manner, with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs using the Massage Therapy Act — administered by the state cosmetology board — to combat human trafficking.
In the meantime, Ortega said, the cosmetology board and massage therapists have never come to an agreement on regulations and licensing for legitimate therapists, thus putting several thousand of them out of work.