A long-awaited, $867 billion farm bill is on its way to President Donald Trump’s desk with overwhelming bipartisan support that didn’t include three Colorado Republican congressmen.
The U.S. House on Wednesday voted 369-47 to approve the farm bill and send it to the president for his signature after the Senate approved the compromise version Tuesday 87-13.
Among those 47 “no” votes in the House were departing U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora and U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs and Ken Buck of Greeley.
The farm bill — known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — is a five-year extension of various agricultural programs as well as food assistance to low-income Americans. It replaces the previous farm bill that expired at the end of September.
The three Colorado lawmakers who voted “no” cited the removal of work requirements for food-stamp recipients under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program that were in an earlier version of the bill, among other objections.
An earlier House-passed version included enhanced requirements for SNAP, which was also supported by the Trump administration, but those changes were a nonstarter in the Senate and were never included in its version, nor in the bill’s final compromise that emerged from a conference committee.
“I voted against the Farm Bill simply because the SNAP reforms were removed from the final legislation,” said Lamborn. “This was a missed opportunity — the reforms were meant to improve the program and help hard-working Americans.
“Instead, the SNAP requirements were slashed and conservative policy ignored. Too many Americans are on food stamps because we have few restrictions on able-bodied people accessing the benefits that were originally intended for those who could not work or who had minor dependents.”
Among the bill’s most significant features: legalization of hemp.
The legislation would federally legalize cultivation and distribution of industrial hemp, which is still classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a schedule 1 drug.
Gov-elect Jared Polis “fought hard and successfully for several provisions in the farm bill,” including de-scheduling hemp and allowing for better wildfire mitigation, according to a statement from his office.
“He has advocated for these provisions for years” through measures such as the Hemp Farming Act and the National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act, the statement added.
“This is a pivotal and long-overdue moment for hemp in America,” said Shawn Hauser, chair of the Hemp and Cannabinoids Practice Group at the Denver cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg. “Following decades of prohibition under outdated drug laws, hemp will finally be treated like other crops and legal for U.S. farmers to grow. This historic legislation holds a lot of promise for our economy, the environment, and future generations.”
U.S. Rep Scott Tipton, the lone Colorado Republican to vote in favor, said in a statement that the farm bill “maintains and strengthens critical safety nets for U.S. farmers who work to provide healthy, affordable food for families across the country and the world. The bill also includes important provisions to protect and restore threatened habitats, help prevent catastrophic wildfires across the West and create more economic opportunities for the 3rd Congressional District through the production of industrial hemp.”
The farm bill’s final version includes a Tipton amendment to “streamline an approval process for vegetation management projects to protect and restore the habitat of sage-grouse and mule deer.”
Tipton said the farm bill also includes provisions to help the U.S. Forest Service “proactively manage National Forests and prevent catastrophic wildfires. The bill will allow the USFS to establish a pilot program for clearing overgrown vegetation around power lines and other utility infrastructure, as well as allow for the removal of trees that have become hazardous fuel due to disease and insect infestation.”
Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry said Tuesday, “We committed to passing a farm bill this year, and that’s exactly what we intend to do. We appreciate the conference committee’s hard work to reach a bipartisan bill that legalizes hemp, conserves land and water, combats climate change, and bolsters economic security in rural communities. The finish line is in sight. Now Congress needs to do what’s right for Colorado and send this bill to the President’s desk.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner joined Bennet in supporting the compromise bill Tuesday.
“As a fifth generation Coloradan from a small town on the eastern plains where agriculture is a way of life, I know how important it is that Congress has reached a bipartisan agreement on the farm bill,” Gardner said in a statement. “As a result of low commodity prices, our agriculture community has been struggling for the past few years and this has had a profound impact on my own community and rural communities across the state and country. The farm bill provides long-term certainty to farmers and ranchers throughout Colorado and even includes provisions that will specifically help Colorado farmers and ranchers.
“Several provisions I worked on include providing farmers and ranchers relief from drought, using technology to better implement dryland farming practices, providing resources to combat deadly diseases that wipe out hop fields, and making industrial hemp legal to make sure Colorado farmers are free to use their land how they see fit,” Gardner added. “All of these initiatives will help Colorado’s agriculture community and this is another example of how Congress can work together in a bipartisan manner to help the American people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.