GMO regulation bills and measure to ban smoking on beaches statewide fail in Legislature

GMO regulation bills & a measure to ban smoking on beaches statewide fail
Senator Clarence Nishihara
Senator Clarence Nishihara
Colin Moore
Colin Moore
Representative Cindy Evans
Representative Cindy Evans

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thursday is the crossover deadline at the State Capitol when new legislation must pass at least one chamber to remain alive for the session.  Bills that would increase the minimum wage and make kindergarten mandatory are moving on, but hundreds of others have stalled.  Experts say nearly 90% of all bills introduced each legislative session fail -- of the 2,872 measures proposed last year, only 293 passed out of both the House and Senate.  This year with elections around the corner in November, analysts say it's not surprising many controversial bills won't make it.

Several measures to regulate genetically modified foods were introduced this session, including one to overturn new county restrictions or bans on Kaua'i and Hawai'i Island.

"The counties want to intercede themselves into these things and they have a right to do so, but they don't have the agencies of government within their counties to handle things.  If they had the agencies within their own counties that took care of agriculture -- they could monitor, they could do whatever -- then by all means go ahead, but they don't.  They don't have the resources to do it.  They don't have the expertise," explained Senator Clarence Nishihara.

Nishihara, who chairs the Senate Agriculture committee, admits he didn't even schedule a hearing for his bill to prevent counties from enacting laws limiting rights to "modern farming", like bio-engineering, because he says he knew it didn't have the support it needed to pass through the three committees it was referred to.

"Any one of the three, if they decide not to hear it or they vote it down, then the bill can't move forward anyway because it has to be total agreement. It's pointless to hold a hearing on a bill if it wasn't going to go anywhere and everyone's going to be all huhu when they come out -- what's the point?"

A measure to require labelling on genetically modified foods has also failed to move on, which doesn't surprise University of Hawai'i at Manoa political science professor Colin Moore.

"I think if we weren't moving into an election year you might have seen more movement on this issue.  I think there's a bit of fatigue here after the Special Session when gay marriage was passed.  I think there's probably a perception from some legislators that's as controversial as they want this time," Moore explained, adding the reverse is true as well.  "Sometimes there are bills that are politically popular that make it through because legislators want to show their constituents that they gave this to them."

But even bills with broad support during legislative hearings, like a measure to prohibit smoking on all public beaches statewide which was re-introduced by Representative Cindy Evans, fell through the cracks.

"We all know where the debris line is because it washes the debris up.  Everything below that would be below the shoreline, which we said from there out it makes sense not to be smoking there," the House Water and Land committee chair said.

Evans says confusion and disagreement over how to define a public beach led to the bill's demise.

"I think it's legit that we continue working on this.  I would like to bring it back next year, but I think we'll have to reach out and talk to the mayors and probably county councils," Evans said.

Of the 2,312 bills introduced this session in both the House and Senate -- only about 900 are still up for consideration, but that number is expected to increase slightly before Thursday's crossover.

"The best bills will eventually make it through," Moore said.

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