UPDATED

Call it Gut and Replace Lite.

Senate Bill 3058 would amend Hawaii’s Right to Farm Act “to ensure that counties cannot enact laws, ordinances, or resolutions to limit the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices.”

Introduced by Sen. Clarence Nishihara, the Agriculture Committee chairman, and backed by several powerful senators, SB 3058 appears to be an attempt to exert state control over counties like Kauai and Hawaii that have moved to dramatically curb the use of pesticides and GMOs.

But the bill faced a joint referral to three committees as well as a fourth referral to a single committee — a high hurdle.1

Solution? Take the key language of SB 3058 and place it into another bill related to ag — in this case, Senate Bill 110, a short-form bill held over from last year. And give it a hearing at the last minute.

It had been expected that the Legislature would revisit the issue of GMOs and pesticides after the counties acted on their own.

The Big Island has banned biotech companies from growing seed crops and has prohibited farmers from growing any new genetically altered crops. Kauai is requiring biotech companies to disclose what pesticides they are spraying, where and in what quantity, and is requiring farmers to report any genetically altered crops that they are growing. The measure also creates buffer zones between fields sprayed with pesticides and schools, parks, medical facilities and residences.

SB 110 comes from Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, one of the co-sponsors of SB 3058.

Technically, the transfer of language from one bill to the other does not constitute “gut and replace” — a practice that has come under fire in recent sessions and was supposed to have ended in the Senate — because SB 110 didn’t really have any language to begin with. Short form bills are designed to be used when lawmakers decide they need to move on certain issues during a session.

The key language in the new bill, however, is nearly identical to language in the old one:

The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this State. 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.”

The challenge for those who wish to testify against the measure is that the notice of a hearing went out Monday afternoon and the hearing is Tuesday in Nishihara’s committee.

Not only that, the hearing is for decision making only, so no testimony will be accepted. The bill’s notice explains:

The purpose of this decision making meeting is to insert substantive provisions into the following short form bill.  A public hearing will be scheduled at a later date, at which point testimony will be accepted.

Despite the short notice of the short bill, some legislative watchdogs sniffed it out. Kauai environmental activist Brad Parsons, for one, said the maneuvering tactics amounted to a “sneak attack.”

But Nishihara said SB 110 is just another way to make sure SB 3058 gets heard.

The senator has criticized anti-GMO activists for ignoring what he believes is the solid science behind the value and safety of genetically modified food and seed. In turn, Nishihara has been lambasted as a lackey of biotech companies who accepts their generous campaign donations.

Asked if SB 110 would overturn laws like the anti-GMO and pesticide bills passed on Kauai and the Big Island, Nishihara said he didn’t think so.

“I think that overturning will end up in courts anyway regardless of what we do,” he said late Monday. “But I think these bills will subject the counties to closer scrutiny.”

Is he worried about a bunch of angry people turning out for SB 110?

“I am sure they will be there, whether it’s this bill or the original bill,” he said.

About the Author