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Kauai Council removes invalid law regulating pesticides, GMOs

The Kauai County Council unanimously voted to “clear the books” of an invalidated county law the courts had struck down requiring biotech companies to disclose pesticide use and regulate the growth of genetically modified organisms.

The council voted 6-0 Wednesday on a measure to repeal Ordinance 960 (Bill 2491) from the county code after the federal district and appellate courts had ruled the measure was preempted by state law. Councilman Arthur Brun, an employee of Syngenta Seeds on Kauai, recused himself from the vote.

The measure will be sent to the mayor’s office for approval. Mayor Bernard Carvalho had supported the intent of the ordinance but vetoed the bill in 2013 because it was “legally flawed.” The county council voted 5-2 to override the veto.

In an e-mailed statement Wednesday, Carvalho said, “I remain committed to supporting the state Good Neighbor Program and working with the governor’s office and the Dept. of Agriculture in finding solutions to this issue.”

The state recently announced plans to expand its voluntary Kauai Good Neighbor Program across the state, inviting biotech companies to provide monthly pesticide use reports.

Council Chairman Mel Rapozo described Wednesday’s action to repeal the invalidated law as a housekeeping measure. “I don’t think we should keep invalidated laws in the county code.”

In 2013, Rapozo was one of two councilmembers who voted against the passage of Ordinance 960 (Bill 2491) contending state law preempts county law on regulating pesticides. The 2013 ordinance mandated biotech companies to establish buffer zones and required companies to disclose the type of pesticides used in fields. The county law also regulated the use of GMOs.

The issue divided the community, Rapozo said, more than any other community issue he has seen. “It was time to close this chapter and move on.”

Former Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-introduced Bill 2491 with the late Councilman Tim Bynum, said though the courts invalidated the law, it has sparked more public discussions on pesticide use and exposure.

In 2014, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and BASF, declaring the measure was invalid because state law preempts county law. The companies filed a lawsuit against the county to block the implementation of Ordinance 960.

In November, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the lower courts’ ruling, asserting federal and state laws preempt counties’ authority on Kauai as well as Hawaii and Maui to regulate pesticide use and genetically modified crops.

Hawaii County had passed a law prohibiting biotech companies from operating on the island and banning the growth of GMOs. The GMO papaya industry was exempted.

Hawaii County Clerk Stewart Maeda said no bill has been introduced by a councilmember to repeal the measure. “It’s still in the books even though it was … invalidated,” Maeda said.

Maui county voters had passed an ordinance when they approved a ballot initiative to impose a moratorium on growing and testing GMOs.

Maui County Clerk Danny Mateo said the issue remains “in limbo.”

“For us, there’s no action because we’re waiting for a final directive from the courts,” he said.

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