A federal judge may push back a decision about Maui County’s moratorium on genetically modified crops because of two bills pending in the Legislature.

House Bill 849 and Senate Bill 986 seek to prohibit counties from restricting farming practices that are permitted by federal law — essentially nullifying the Maui County ordinance, which bans the cultivation of genetically engineered crops until the county conducts a public health and environmental study of them.

Maui County voters approved the moratorium last November, sparking a court challenge from Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. The companies and the County of Maui agreed to delay the law’s implementation until March 31.

GMO fields on Molokai (NO TEXT)

An aerial view of Monsanto Company’s fields on Molokai, part of Maui County.

On Tuesday, the parties had been scheduled to meet to argue the merits of certain motions filed in the case. But Judge Susan Mollway decided to postpone that discussion and instead spend the hearing contemplating whether the court should rule on the moratorium while the bills are pending.

HB 849 and SB 986 both appear to be dead this year because they have missed legislative deadlines, but their language could resurface in other measures.

Mollway asked the attorneys for the SHAKA Movement, a nonprofit group that intervened to defend the moratorium, to submit a 2,500-word brief by Friday describing the harms of further delaying the law’s implementation.

While Mollway said she hadn’t made up her mind as to what to do, she seemed open to the possibility of pushing back a ruling until the legislative session ends.

“The Legislature is likely to adjourn in May. This is March,” Mollway said. “It’s not that there would be a huge delay.”

Margery Bronster, attorney for the plaintiffs Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, asked to extend the injunction until 10 days after May 7 or whatever date the court issues its ruling on the case.

Mollway said she plans to make a decision about whether to delay the law’s enforcement after reviewing the SHAKA Movement’s brief. The next hearing is scheduled for March 31.

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