LIHUE — It’s approved.
At 3:35 a.m. Wednesday, nearly 19 hours after Tuesday’s special meeting kicked off, the Kauai County Council voted 6-1 to approve controversial legislation that will allow the county to regulate pesticides and genetically modified crops.
The law will take effect in approximately nine months — longer than the original six-month time frame.
In his closing remarks, bill co-introducer Gary Hooser called 2491 a “people’s bill,” one that started 11 months ago during a conversation in the living room of local resident Sol Kahn.
“From that moment forward, people of this island took ownership of this bill and took ownership of the issue,” Hooser said. “And (they’ve) brought us to where we’re at today.”
Bill 2491 requires Kauai’s largest agricultural companies to disclose their use of pesticides and genetically modified crops. It also establishes buffer zones around schools, hospitals, roads and other sensitive areas, and requires the county to complete an environmental and health fact-finding study on the industry’s impacts.
The bill specifically applies to the island’s largest ag operations that are using a certain threshold of restricted use pesticides. Those companies include biotech giants DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, BASF and Dow AgroSciences, as well as Kauai Coffee.
Today, Bill 2491 looks very different than it did when introduced in June, having been stripped of nearly half its original provisions.
While he was disappointed the bill came out weakened, Hooser said passing the remaining portions has empowered Kauai and “set an example for other communities.”
“I wish we could have had a stronger bill,” he said. “There were road blocks thrown up every single step of the way, and we’ve seemed to overcome those roadblocks.”
The lone dissenting vote came from Councilman Mel Rapozo, who has stuck by his opinion that the bill unfairly targets biotech companies.
“I believe that is where we are going to suffer in court,” he said about possible litigation, which bill opponents say is where the issue will end up.
Before calling for a final vote, Council Chair Jay Furfaro said he was proud of Kauai’s stewardship over the last several months, and that the council had to envision the island’s future.
While the bill has provided a start, Furfaro warned that the county must move forward cautiously and respectfully.
“We are where we are,” he said. “I will be supporting this bill. I want to make sure we understand we have a long ways to go.”
When the final vote was tallied, loud cheers from bill proponents — some who had arrived at the Historic County Building as early as 3 p.m. Monday — filled the small council chambers. Tears streamed down peoples’ faces and hugs were exchanged.
Outside, an overflow crowd — also overwhelmingly in favor of the bill — joined in the celebration, with cheers even echoing inside the chambers.
The ultra-marathon meeting included two executive sessions, hours of public testimony, additional comments from the mayor and his administrative staff and council members working through additional amendments.
While the 6-1 vote was ultimately well received by those still in attendance, there was a time when the bill seemed as if it was headed for another deferral.
Around 3 a.m., with tensions already running high, Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura hinted toward her approval of delaying a motion on the bill, causing a stir in the audience. She said she knew that in a few weeks she would be responsible for implementing the law.
On Friday, Nakamura had announced she would be leaving her council position to replace county Managing Director Gary Heu.
“This is about really taking a close look and developing relationships with the state entity we have to work with to implement this law,” she said. “And unfortunately, that’s something that I need to consider.”
Nakamura’s remarks did not go over well with her colleagues.
After 18 hours in council chambers, Hooser said he was “flabbergasted” and “disappointed” by her support for deferral.
“A motion to defer, in my opinion, is a motion to kill the bill,” he said. “The community has come so far. They’ve been here for three days, some of these people, 36 hours, counting on us to do what is our responsibility.”
A visibly emotional Councilman Tim Bynum said he didn’t even know how to respond. While he supported Nakamura’s decision to work for the mayor, he described her comment about having to consider personally implementing the law as inappropriate and unethical.
“As soon as you resign from this body, then you need to do the mayor’s bidding,” he said. “But until then, you already voted for this bill, Nadine. You stated your intention as a council member.”
Furfaro stressed he wanted to vote on the bill, not defer it, and that Nakamura’s contributions are how the council got to where it was.
But then, with the crowd growing increasingly agitated outside, Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she was “committed from the start to pass a bill,” and that she could not support a deferral without the necessary votes.
Ultimately, a formal motion to defer the matter was never made, and the crowd settled down to hear the final vote.
Nakamura, who voted in favor, said she and Yukimura worked hard to amend a bill that found “middle ground.”
“I don’t think anyone in this room is totally happy with this bill,” she said. “But I think it’s what we needed to move forward and to take a step in this direction, to make a statement of concern. And I hope we can all move forward together.”
The council’s decision is one Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. may have to live with, despite his request that the matter be delayed in order for him to collaborate with state officials.
For Bynum, the bill was never about GMO food safety, or putting the companies out of business — as the seed companies have said.
“It’s about the practices that are happening here on Kauai that are different than anywhere else in the country, as far as I know,” he said.
Just as he did at the committee level, Councilman Ross Kagawa voted in favor, somewhat surprising considering his comments throughout the process.
“For me, my biggest help I think can be to work on the state and continue to work that fight, because I don’t believe that it’s a lost cause,” he said.
While it came with rifts and polarization, Yukimura said the bill created awareness and brought forth an important issue.
“We needed all voices involved in making this decision,” she said. “It seems like a lot of the original bill has been removed. But I feel like the core has been kept.”
At 4 a.m., bill proponents, dressed in red, were still celebrating in front of the Historic County Building.