Molokai bills stay active in the Hawaii Senate and House.
By Sean Aronson
There continues to be legislation that will have an impact on Molokai in the Senate and House. Issues that range from GMO’s to fisheries to Molokai Ranch have all seen the light of day in the past few weeks. Here’s a run-down of the action.
There are two separate bills addressing the use of genetically modified organisms, commonly known as GMO’s. One seeks to ban their use, while another hopes to take away the power of the legislative bodies to prohibit their use.
House Bill 1663 would ban the use of GMO’s for taro only. It “prohibits the development, testing, propagation, release, importation, planting, or growing of genetically modified Hawaiian taro in the State.”
HB 1663 has cleared three readings in the house and was amended to say “Prohibits certain activities related to genetically modified non-Hawaiian taro”. It is currently before the Energy and Environment Committee (ENE). The ENE was scheduled to have a hearing on HB 1663 last Tuesday.
HB 1226 states that “no county regulatory action shall ban or otherwise regulate the planting, growing, testing, advertisement, labeling, packaging, handling, transportation, distribution, use, notification of use, certification, or registration of any genetically modified plant organism.”
Last week the Maui County Council voted unanimously to oppose HB 1226.
In supporting HB 1226, officials from the Maui County Farm Bureau, Monsanto Co. and University of Hawaii, Manoa, spoke in favor of GMO crops and the state's burgeoning biotechnology industry. Genetically modified plants are more resistant to disease, grow more plentiful, have a spotless safety record and provide a much-needed competitive edge to Hawaii agriculture in a global economy, they said.
"GMO crops are safe and well regulated," said Harold Keyser, UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources county administrator, who said he was speaking on his own behalf. "The accumulated area planted since 1996 (in 25 countries) now exceeds 2 billion acres, again with a perfect safety record."
GMO opponents said the science is in its infancy, but Keyser said that wasn't true, and that 647 published government- and industry-sponsored scientific studies all say genetic modification is safe.
Walter Ritte joined other Molokai residents in criticizing the state bill. They worried about the effects of accidental cross-pollination between conventional and GMO crops.
Senate Bill 1199, establishing a community-managed Molokai subsistence fishing area, has passed its third reading in the Senate and will move to the House. The bill gives greater control to Molokai residents when it comes to who can fish offshore and what boats are allowed. It also recognizes the current stewardship of locals at places like Mo`omomi.
House Concurrent Resolution 95, requiring the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to provide a fair appraisal of Molokai Ranch land, has been deferred in the House pending DLNR’s ability to find funds for the appraisal.
At a hearing two weeks ago, Rep. Denny Coffman of Hawaii Island questioned a Molokai Ranch official, Dan Orodenker, about his plans for the land. When he affirmed that they had no future business plan, Rep. Coffman inquired about whether the property was for sale. While first answering no, Orodenker eventually conceded that Ranch is for sale if a proper offer was on the table.
This resolution coincides with the announcement last week that Hawaii Electric Company would buy energy produced on Molokai by wind generation. First Wind, which has been in negotiations with the Ranch to purchase the land, would be the provider of wind-generated power.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 44, expressing support for the United States Geological Survey report, “The coral reef of south Molokai’ and encouraging federal, state, and community cooperation to steward the south Molokai reef fishery, has passed the Senate.
HB 669 would ban the use of aspartame, the artificial sweetener, in food products available in Hawaii. It has passed its first reading and been referred to the Health Committee.