By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The vote is done but the work may not be over yet.
With the passing of Bill 113 on Tuesday, one question remains for the Hawaii County Council: What to do about the ad hoc committee?
Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille had proposed the committee earlier in the process as a means to study the issue of genetically modified crops in greater detail.
It ran into a snag when the county Corporation Counsel said the council may not be able to vote on the bill while such a committee is working, leaving the proposal to be tabled.
On Tuesday, Wille, who also introduced the bill, said she still wants it to be considered. She told the Tribune-Herald that it may come up again next month.
The committee would answer questions about GMOs and agriculture, including whether GMO and non-GMO farms can “co-exist.” Wille has said the committee could then make recommendations for ways to change the law if needed.
She had been criticized by some for seeking to restrict GMO agriculture before such questions were answered.
Wille defended her approach Tuesday before the vote, saying again she thinks the county needs to close the door first on further open-air use of transgenic crops.
“I think to do otherwise would be to ignore all the cries around the world,” Wille said at the meeting.
If formed, it would include several council members and possibly others with backgrounds on the issue.
Both sides have questioned the need for a committee since the bill has been passed.
“What’s the point of having a committee if you already have a bill?” said Lorie Farrell, a coordinator with the pro-GMO Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United, earlier this month.
That was also the take of Blake Watson, a member of GMO Free Hawaii Island.
He said he saw the bill as a good first step, but toward further anti-GMO legislation rather than a committee.
Wille said she expects the committee would be effective.
“This is an ongoing discussion,” she said. “We’re doing this as problem-solvers.”
After testimony finished Tuesday, Wille also moved for a vote before discussion could occur. That motion was passed.
“I just felt there’s been so much debate … let’s leave it to the council to decide do they really want to or just go ahead and vote,” she said.
“I guess everyone’s been waiting and it’s been going on for so long,” Wille added.
There’s also the question of what Mayor Billy Kenoi will do with the bill.
Kenoi, who has veto power, has not given an opinion on the bill publicly.
If vetoed, the council can override it with six votes.
The council voted to send the bill immediately to him for consideration. He’s expected to receive it Thursday.
The move also prevents council members from trying to reconsider the issue.
If enacted, some GMO supporters in the agriculture community have said they would file legal challenges. For its part, the county’s legal team believes its on firm legal ground on the issue.
Farrell said the group has not considered that option though members may take that step on their own.
Opponents of the bill may be able to find some deep pockets to challenge it.
Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United, which formed to try to defeat the bill, consists of 12 Big Island agriculture organizations, Farrell said. But it also has support from statewide groups, including the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which has Monsanto and other biotech companies as members.
So far, Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United’s activities have been mostly limited to running newspaper and radio ads against the bill.
Farrell said the HCIA has contributed some funds for the ads but doesn’t have any decision making powers. She said the contributions have been about equal to what the other groups chipped in.
With the bill passed, she said the group plans to stay active, and possibly expand as it anticipates other efforts to curb the use of genetically altered crops around Hawaii, including at the state level.
“We’re definitely going to stay organized,” Farrell said.
Dave Sansone, a North Hilo resident who is also part of GMO Free Hawaii Island, said “time will tell” in regards to what battles over transgenic food emerge, but he expects the movement against it to remain active and strong in the state.
“There’s a broad network that’s been developed and we’re just making it stronger,” he said.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.