Hawaii House lawmakers have deferred indefinitely a bill that would have created vegetative buffer zones around five schools as part of a pilot project to protect against inadvertent exposure to pesticides sprayed at nearby farm fields.

The Hawaii Center for Food Safety expressed its “deep disappointment” in the decision by the Agriculture Committee, chaired by Rep. Clift Tsuji, in particular to not pass House Bill 2564.

Rep. Clift Tsuji, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, recommended deferring a bill to create buffer zones around schools to protect against pesticide drift.

Rep. Clift Tsuji, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, recommended deferring a bill to create buffer zones around schools to protect against pesticide drift.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The House Environmental Protection and Energy Committee, chaired by Rep. Chris Lee, also recommended deferring the bill although Lee introduced the legislation and supported its passage.

“I look forward to the Department of Health and others re-engaging on this issue moving forward. As long as there’s questions unanswered — and I think it’s clear there are some — we have an obligation as leaders to make sure that we put the health of the communities first and foremost,” Lee said.

The group’s director, Ashley Lukens, said in a release Tuesday that state agencies need to step up in the interim and address community concerns.

“We know this issue is not going anywhere. It’s time for the state to take the necessary actions to protect Hawaii’s keiki from harmful pesticide exposure,” she said.

On a positive note, Lukens said lawmakers’ discussion of the bill last week with state officials and the public brought to light “major gaps in the state’s approach to pesticide regulation, and the total lack of coordination between the departments of Education, Health and Agriculture in addressing these issues.”

Critics of the bill have said it’s not GMO seed companies that are to blame for school closures in recent years due to pesticide drift. They said it’s individuals who use pesticides inappropriately at their homes.

The Department of Agriculture opposed the bill, saying pesticides are already well regulated.

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