Kauai should have a say on local matters

Forever.

That’s a long time.

And that’s how long two bills introduced at the Legislature are proposing farmers and ranchers in Hawaii should have to continue their work.

The bills, House Bill 2506 and Senate Bill 3058, would expand the state’s Right to Farm Act of 2001 by adding language that says, “The right of farmers and rangers to engage in modern farming and ranching will be forever guaranteed in this State.”

And that means exactly what you think. No one, at least not locally, could interfere with their practices.

“No law, ordinance, or resolution of any unit of local government shall be enacted that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices not prohibited by federal or state law, rules, or regulations,” it continues.

It seems clear these bills are in response to Ordinance 960, a law passed in November which gives the county the power to regulate pesticide use and genetically modified crop production by Kauai’s largest agricultural entities. And that law is being challenged.

“The pesticide and agrochemical industry will attempt to restrict the rights of local governments, in favor of higher levels of government where they have more access and power,” said Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser.

Now, one of the bill’s sponsors says it has nothing to do with pesticides or GMOs.

“It’s a right to farm bill,” said Rep. Dee Morikawa, D-Koloa-Niihau, who co-introduced the measure along with Rep. James “Jimmy” Tokioka, D-Koloa-Wailua.

“I am supporting the bill because, if we are truly serious about supporting local farmers and moving toward more food self-reliance in Hawaii, we should be giving the industry the tools it needs to grow food to feed our people,” Morikawa wrote to The Garden Island. “This measure is intended to do just that.”

While it seems unlikely these bills will get far in this session — Chairwoman Jessica Wooley of the House Agriculture Committee said she doesn’t plan to hear them — they should not be dismissed.

We agree with moving toward food reliance in Hawaii. We can’t agree with legislation that basically would do away with all the work that went into passing Ordinance 960. Locals must have the right, the voice, to object when they believe their health is threatened.

“Every county needs to determine the future of food and farming on their island,” said farmer Chris Kobayashi.

We can’t agree, either, with giving farmers and ranchers the authority to do what they like and not be questioned at a local level. Yes, we want their business to succeed. We want them to have the tools to do their job and make a living.

But there should be an avenue for locals to take action, to voice their concerns, as long as it’s done legally, within the bounds of the law.

Locals should be able to testify on matters important to them and not be required to take a plane to Oahu.

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