WASHINGTON – Several projects affecting Colorado were tucked inside the farm bill passed Friday by the House including language allowing in-state hemp production, more air tankers to fight forest fires and a measure to ease environmental rules for rural electrical cooperatives.
The Republican bill passed on a mostly party-line vote of 216-208, but does not include the contentious food stamps language that has blocked the measure from passage this year. The program is expected to face significant reform efforts in separate legislation.
Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton said he is hopeful that reforms will “eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in these programs while ensuring that those who are truly in need of assistance have full access to it.”
Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis sponsored the language allowing colleges and universities to grow industrial hemp in Colorado and 18 other states where marijuana has been legalized.
However, Polis voted against the farm bill saying he strongly opposed the overall measure. As for his own amendment, Polis called it “common sense.”
Pro-hemp groups supported Polis’s initiative and said it provides another crop for farmers to reap economic rewards.
Language allowing the Forest Service to lease new air tankers to fight wildfires was sponsored by Tipton and fellow Colorado Republican Reps. Cory Gardner and Doug Lamborn.
The lawmakers said allowances were necessary because the Forest Service is only allowed to lease decommissioned military tankers and commercial tankers.
If the measure is passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the agency would be allowed to choose from newer and more effective tankers. However, Obama has already threatened to veto the farm bill.
Because of the leasing restrictions, the government’s air tanker fleet has dwindled from 44 to only nine tankers since 2002.
Gardner sponsored the language that relaxes environmental rules on electrical cooperatives, as well as a measure to increase emergency funding for the watershed restoration program.
The scaled-down version of the farm bill passed by the House funds certain agriculture programs and also contains commodity and crop insurance reforms.
The original farm bill passed by the Senate came with a $940 billion price tag – 80 percent of which was to pay for the food stamp program.
With one in three Americans receiving some sort of federal food assistance including food stamps, more than 100 million out of 314 million, Republicans say there is a need for reform.