GMO bill moves to committee on Monday

LIHUE — Hundreds of public speakers voiced their opinions Wednesday on one of the most controversial bills ever introduced by the Kauai County Council. The bill is now ready for council members to dig into all of its issues and reaches.

Altogether, 227 people testified on Bill 2491 at the hearing at Kauai Veterans Center Wednesday, according to County Clerk Ricky Watanabe.

“It ended at 1 a.m.,” Watanabe said of the  hearing.

The bill now goes through the council’s Economic Development Committee Monday, when council members will begin working on the bill, discussing flaws and strengths, and potentially propose amendments.

The proposal adds a stricter layer of county regulations to GMO companies and large ag operations. Some say the bill would chase seed companies off the island and create much unemployment, while others say public health and safety are at stake.

Watanabe said he didn’t know how many people testified in favor of the bill and how many were against it, because many didn’t express their position upfront. The council’s legal analysts were looking at the testimony Thursday afternoon before tallying a list of statistics to deliver to council members, he said.

The council held the hearing at KVC rather than its regular venue at the Historic County Building, in order to accommodate the anticipated large crowd. Nearly all 550 seats set up inside KVC were taken. Outside the building, an equal or perhaps larger crowd listened to the hearing through loud speakers, mingled, and rallied at the edge of Kapule Highway.

When the bill went through first reading in June, about 1,000 showed up at the Historic County Building, but only about 100 were allowed inside the council chambers. A tiny TV set up in the building’s hall allowed a few more to watch it live, but the majority of people rallied outside in the front lawn.

The trade-off from moving a hearing to a larger location away from the Historic County Building is that it makes it difficult for the council to stream it live, according to Watanabe.

He said the council chambers are set up with a direct line to closed captioners on the Mainland, which is not the case at KVC. For that reason, even though Hoike taped Wednesday’s hearing, it was not shown live at the council’s website. Once closed caption is added to the tapes, they will be released for showing, Watanabe said.

A private website and a radio station did transmit the event live.

Besides testimony from public speakers, the council took in many written pieces. Watanabe said he didn’t have the count of how many pieces of testimony were sent in, but the amount was “considerable” and much higher than the spoken pieces.

“We got testimony from all over the place, not just from Kauai,” Watanabe said.

Monday’s Economic Development Committee meeting will be at the Historic County Building in Lihue, starting at 8:30 a.m. The public will have a chance to testify or send written testimony.

Another large crowd is expected.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@thegardenisland.com

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