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“County preemption” measure dies in committee

Large crowd shows up on short notice

Will Caron

The Senate committee on agriculture (AGL) held a public decision-making session on whether to “insert substantive provisions” into short-form bill SB110 earlier today. The vote ended in a tie, meaning the measure died in committee.

By amending the Hawaii’s Right to Farm Act to “ensure that counties cannot enact laws, ordinances, or resolutions that limit the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices,” SB110 would have prevented any county legislation that would prevent biotech companies from creating GMO seeds and growing plants from them from being passed.

It was expected that the legislature would revisit this issue after both Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi counties passed bills that curb biotech company practices like using GMOs and the chemicals that go with them.

That language in SB110 came from a different bill AGL Chair Clarence Nishihara introduced along with Senator Brickwood Galuteria (SB3058) which faces the challenge of three separate committee referrals. Nishihara said this was simply another way of making sure his original bill gets heard. Opponents called it a “gut and replace” tactic and “a sneak attack.”

At the core of the resistance to this bill are the same people who oppose biotech company development and implementation of GMO crops and the chemicals that are sprayed on them; the same forces that fought at the end of last year to pass the Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi county bills. A similar bill has been introduced by Maui Councilwoman Elle Cochran.

“They’re not farmers,” said Walter Ritte at the “People Not Profits” rally last week, referring to biotech firms.

“They pretend to be farmers while their allies in the legislature try to pass a bill that would eliminate the counties ability to determine its own future. It’s an attack on home rule.

“That’s what it comes down to,” echoed Kauaʻi County Councilman and co-sponsor of the piece of Kauaʻi legislation this state bill would overturn, Gary Hooser. “It’s about protecting county rights.”

Hooser and Ritte were both at today’s hearing along with a large crowd that filled every seat and spilled out into the hallway, despite the fact that the notice for the hearing went out only a day in advance.

There will always be people who believe that technology is dangerous. – Senator Nishihara

Senators J. Kalani English, Laura Thielen and Vice Chair of the AGL, Ronald Kouchi of Kauaʻi, agreed with the home-rule analysis and voted against the measure

“I’m going to be voting no on this procedural vote, mainly because I support county rule,” English said. “The counties need to be able to make their own decisions and have home rule. I think this is a slippery slope. What will we preempt the counties on in the future? Sub divisions? Land use? What we feel here at the state level when the Federal government preempts us is the same way the counties feel.”

Senator Slom said he voted yes only because he wanted to have a public hearing and allow testimony from both sides.

Chair Clarence Nishihara said that in his mind, the bill was about science and good agricultural practices.

“Although the counties feel they are being preempted, my sense of it is if the counties really had the wherewithal in their agencies of government or the resources therein and they could expedite these measures—one way or the other—then they wouldn’t have to come hat in hand to the state to the say we need support; we need the money to do this; we want you to do this,” he began.

“Unfortunately, no matter what the vote is, this isn’t going to end today,” Nishihara continued. “This is an issue that has gone worldwide, and it’s about the science of it. It’s about what is considered good, modern agricultural practices. Some people’s concepts of what is modern agriculture exclude any type of technology that enhances the production of food. As a result GMOs are a no-no. In the scientific community the preponderance of data and studies say that it is a safe technology. But there will always be people who believe that technology is dangerous.”

Senators Nishihara, Slom and Donovan Dela Cruz voted yes. During the 2012 elections, Monsanto, the largest and most powerful biotech company in Hawaiʻi, donated $1,500 to Dela Cruz and $1,000 to Nishihara.

Dela Cruz also received $500 each from the Dow Chemical Agricultural Executive PAC and Syngenta Crop Protection LLC and another $450 from Syngenta Seeds, Inc. Nishihara received $500 from Syngenta Crop Protection LLC while Slom received $300 from Dupont.

Senators English and Thielen received no money from seed or chemical companies. Interestingly, Senator Kouchi did receive $1,000 from Monsanto, $500 from Syngenta Hawaii, LLC and $500 from Dupont.

The seventh member of the committee, Glenn Wakai, was excused. He received $500 from Monsanto in 2012.