The Hawaii House of Representatives on Thursday quashed a bill that would have required large-scale agricultural operations to publicly disclose when and where they spray pesticides and insecticides.

Even though House Bill 790 had passed three House committees — a high hurdle — Majority Leader Scott Saiki called for the bill to be recommitted to one of those committees during a Thursday floor session.

That action was affirmed by a voice vote, making it difficult to know where individual members stood.

Speaker Souki Rep Scott Saiki chat before session is gaveled in. 9 march 2017
House Speaker Joe Souki and Majority Leader Scott Saiki chat before Thursday’s session began. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ashley Lukens, director of Hawaii Center for Food Safety, said HB 790 was killed because House Consumer Protection Committee Chairman Angus McKelvey inserted language into the measure strengthening the restrictions that made it “too contentious” to cross over to the Senate.

“By not passing this mandatory pesticide disclosure law, our state representatives have failed to protect our children and communities,” said Lukens, who attended the session. “Our keiki deserve better.”

Bennette Misalucha, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which represents seed companies like Monsanto, said the House did the right thing. She too watched the floor action from the gallery.

“At a time when the governor himself is asking for the state to double its food production, we are heartened that the representatives listened to the hundreds off farmers who called and really clamored for reason,” she said.

The author of HB 790, Rep. Chris Lee, could not be reached for comment.

Pesticide use and the use of genetically modified organisms have been contentious issues in recent years. The counties of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai each moved to place restrictions on the practices, but a federal court ultimately ruled that only the state has the authority.

As with other pesticide and GMO bills, HB 790 attracted passionate testimony from supporters and opponents.

In addition to the HCIA, the Hawaii Farm Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and the seed industry opposed it.

“Reporting provisions requiring notifications for each application would be very onerous and difficult to carry out,” testified Warren Mayberry, DuPont Pioneer’s senior manager of government affairs. “Bill 790 would negatively impact integrated pest management practices on our farms that allow us to respond quickly and only as needed.”

Chad will ID. 9 march 2017
Bennette Misalucha, left, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, watched the House kill HB 790 from the gallery. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Scott Enright, director of the state Department of Agriculture, said he had “strong reservations” about the bill.

“The bill’s requirement for prior public notification of outdoor pesticide applicants of any pesticide, whether restricted use pesticide or not, exceeds EPA label requirements without apparent scientific basis,” he said in written testimony.

The additional reporting requirement, said Enright, would require hiring more staff and strain the department’s budget. He also complained that HB 790 only targeted one segment of the community that uses pesticides — namely, Big Ag.

“Cases involving potential pesticide exposures to children or near schools were primarily due to pesticide use by homeowners and landscapers,” he said. “This bill does not seem to address the primary route of exposure that poses the highest risk.”

In addition to the Hawaii Center for Food Safety, supporters of the legislation included the Democratic Party of Hawaii, GMO Free Kauai and the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action.

“This kind of backroom maneuvering to serve the anti-regulatory agenda of industrial agriculture tells us that the power of our community is growing,” said Lahaina resident Kai Nishiki in a press release from the Center for Food Safety after the bill’s recommittal. “It is only a matter of time until we win. Publicly aligning with companies like Monsanto is political suicide, so their advocates inside government are using back channels to get this work done.”

Gary Hooser, a former state senator and Kauai Council member, also decried the House’s move on HB 790.

“The spin and misinformation put out there by the industry — and unfortunately some of our legislators — is not fooling the public,” he said in the same press release. “This is about giving Hawaii residents the most basic ‘right to know’ what’s being sprayed near our homes, hospitals and schools.”

Nishiki and Hooser warned that the fight against pesticides would no go away.

HB 790 went through several drafts. Among other things, it called for making reporting guidelines of Kauai’s agricultural “good neighbor program” mandatory for restricted pesticide and insecticide use across the state.

It also called for this:

Establishing disclosure and public notification requirements for outdoor applications of pesticides and insecticides in, as well as in proximity to, schools, healthcare facilities, institutions of higher learning, childcare and eldercare facilities, and other environmentally sensitive areas.

The bill was set for a floor vote Tuesday, when the House passed many of its bills. Instead, a floor amendment was quietly introduced that day.

A key change in that amendment altered the date for HB 790 to go into effect — from “upon its approval” to July 1, 2050. It’s a legislative technique that allows for any bill to continue moving through the Legislature but also ensures that it will never pass unless the so-called “defective date” is changed to an effective date — July 1 of the current or subsequent fiscal year, for example, or perhaps Jan. 1.

Changing the effective date for a bill’s implementation is a legislative slight of hand that most people in the public don’t pay attention to. However, because the bill was recommitted to a committee, it will not cross over to the Senate.

Pesticide and GMO bills make many lawmakers uncomfortable, given the passion that their constituents can have for the issues. As Civil Beat reported last month, top House and Senate leaders refused to comment for a story on pesticide bills at the Legislature this year.

House of Representatives. 9 march 2017
The House voted to recommit HB 790 on a voice vote, making it difficult to know who supported and who opposed the measure. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A Senate bill requiring pesticide buffer zones for “sensitive areas” such as schools, as well establishing of penalties for violations (something HB 790 also called for), died in that chamber last month.

Still, Lukens of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety expressed hope that a third related measure might survive.

Senate Bill 778 would fund the implementation of recommendations of a joint fact-finding study group’s report on pesticide use by large agribusinesses on Kauai.

SB 778, which has a current “defective date” of 2092, now heads to the House. But it has been referred to two separate joint committees as well as House Finance — five committees total. They include McKelvey’s committee.

In a related development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday launched an investigation into whether state agencies discriminated against Native Hawaiians on West Kauai and Molokai when licensing pesticide use on nearby farms.

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