The Hawaii House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection is holding a hearing Thursday morning on a bill that would block large agricultural companies from spraying pesticides near schools.

House Bill 1514, introduced by the panel’s chairman Rep. Chris Lee from Kailua, seeks to ban pesticide spraying near certain areas including schools, hospitals and watersheds as well as require more disclosure from companies on what chemicals they’re using.

The measure reflects fears about the impacts of genetically modified farming and its associated pesticide use in Hawaii, and closely resembles another bill introduced by Health Committee Chairman Josh Green in the Senate.

Aerial view of Molokai biotech fields, reservoir

An aerial view of Molokai seed corn fields and a nearby reservoir.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The hearing is shaping up to be a marathon. The national nonprofit Center for Food Safety — which most recently advocated for legislation to ban GMO farming in Maui County — sent an email out to its supporters urging them to testify and providing sample testimony customized based on whether an individual is a nurse, farmer or parent. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 50 pages of testimony had already been uploaded to the Legislature’s website and much more is expected.

The only opposing testimony uploaded Wednesday came from Alan Gottlieb of the Hawaii Cattleman’s Council, who argued the measure would discourage farming.

But global agricultural companies that depend upon Hawaii’s yearlong growing seasons are expected to strongly oppose the bill based on its potential financial impact on their operations. On Molokai, Monsanto’s fields surround the island’s reservoir and depending on the size of the buffer zones, the measure could limit the company’s farming.

In addition to HB 1514, here are several other pesticide-related bills:

House Bill 687 would allow counties to regulate GMOs and pesticides, in an apparent response to recent court rulings that struck down a GMO farming ban on Hawaii County and a pesticide disclosure bill on Kauai County.

Senate Bill 610 takes the opposite tack by forbidding counties to pass legislation related to GMOs and pesticides.

House Bill 504 and Senate Bill 734 increase the licensing fee for pesticides and add more positions to the Department of Agriculture.

Senate Bill 692 makes it a felony to harm anyone through negligent application of pesticides.

Senate Bill 1037 imposes disclosure requirements for pesticide use.

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