Control of tobacco money still undecided
FRANKFORT - Negotiations on the issue of who will control a pot of money to help farmers and agriculture communities have been delayed.
House and Senate conferees were set to begin discussing a possible compromise on House Bill 611 yesterday morning, but decided to wait until Wednesday, April 5, at 11 a.m.
The issue in the bill is how to spend half the money from the state's share of the national tobacco-lawsuit settlement. The state is due to get more than $3 billion over 25 years, with half going to develop and diversify the state's farm economy and help farm communities.
The share for agriculture in the next two years will be about $180 million, said John-Mark Hack, director of agriculture policy for Gov. Paul Patton.
The House version of the bill would give a big chunk of the money to local boards in the 118 tobacco-producing counties to spend.
In the Senate version of the bill, a state board would control all the money. Supporters say that would help farmers more because the coordinated effort would have a bigger impact.
With only an hour scheduled yesterday morning to discuss the issue, the tobacco committee wouldn't have been able to make much progress, said Rep. Roger Thomas, D-Smiths Grove.
Thomas said conference committee members will probably talk informally over the next few days to begin working out the issue.
One possible compromise under discussion would earmark some of the money, perhaps 25 percent, for local boards to recommend how to spend, but the state board would have the final say.
Lawmakers next week will probably also discuss ways to protect small farmers in contracting arrangements with tobacco companies.