County heads toward repealing GMO bill

LIHUE — For Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, whether the council repeals its GMO bill, the issues it raised will not go away.

“I think a lot of the concern about it is still there and is still valid,” she said Wednesday. “The bill as written caused great polarization in our community, but it raised really important issues.”

Repealing the bill doesn’t mean the county believes there’s not a need to disclose or regulate pesticide use, Yukimura added.

“What the court decision has said is that the need needs to be addressed, not at the county level, but at the state and county level,” she said. “And that’s really where the attention really needs to be focused on now.”

The Kauai County Council voted 6-0 on the first reading of Bill No. 2643, which seeks to repeal Bill No. 2491, also known as Ordinance 960. Councilman Arthur Brun, an employee of Syngenta, recused himself from the vote.

The bill, which was introduced in 2013 by former councilmembers Tim Bynum and Gary Hooser, sought to regulate the use of GMOs and pesticides by requiring mandatory disclosure of GMO and pesticide use by large agricultural businesses, and prohibiting open air testing of experimental pesticides and GMOs. It was passed 6-1 by the council but was later vetoed by Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho, but the council later overrode that veto.

The bill was overturned in the federal court. And on Nov. 18, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the court’s ruling that the Hawaii Pesticides Law preempts the county’s laws.

“Just like any sports team — when you go to a game, you don’t know if you’re going to win or lose. You try your best,” Councilman Ross Kagawa said. “The game is over. They’ve played twice in fact. Two judges ruled, and let’s move on. Let’s kill this bill and help in ways we can. Let’s work with the state and federal government.”

Because the bill was ruled invalid, it was on the agenda as a housekeeping matter.

The appeal to the higher courts was not about pesticide use, but rather the issue of preemption, said Mel Rapozo, council chair.

“Repealing this has nothing to do with the county’s desire to move forward in making sure our community is safe. This is a preemption issue, and that’s what it should be limited to,” he said.

Rapozo said supporters of the bill were feeding on emotions.

“This whole process was always based on fear mongering — getting people so afraid that they joined in the movement,” he said. “The bill was about preemption. It wasn’t about whether or not pesticides were safe. We all know it’s dangerous. But this had nothing to do with that. This had everything to do with if the county has the authority to pass a law like this.”

During public comment, Fern Rosenstiel said she was disappointed the bill was repealed, but not surprised.

“There’s no reason to repeal Ordinance 960 other than to divide the community further,” she said. “Ordinance 960 was invalidated and it’s not going into effect anyway. Yet, it is a symbol of community empowerment and a statement that we demand and deserve better protections.”

Moving forward, Rosenstiel, who helped write the measure, said she’d like to see it be used as a template for state and federal regulations.

But Jan TenBruggencate said the measure needs to be repealed.

“Our county attorney realized it was flawed, legally. The District Court of Appeals realized it was flawed and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed it was flawed,” TenBruggencate said. “It clearly is. Let’s clean up our county code and get it out.”

A public hearing is scheduled on Jan. 12.

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