Kauai County Crosses the Rubicon, Council Passes Pesticide and GMO Bill

Sophie Cocke/ Civil Beat

After a marathon hearing, the Kauai County Council passed a hotly debated bill on Wednesday that could lead to prison time or fines for employees of agricultural companies if they don’t divulge specifics about pesticide use, abide by strict setback rules for spraying chemicals or disclose when they grow genetically engineered crops.

The council voted 6 to 1 to make Bill 2491 into law. The lone vote against the bill came from Councilman Mel Rapozo, who said the measure unfairly targets biotech companies and sets the county up for lawsuits.

The law is set to take effect in nine months — with or without the mayor’s signature, because bills receiving five or more votes are veto-proof. (That said, the bill could theoretically run into trouble if members of the council who voted in favor of the bill defected in a vote to override a mayoral veto.)

The hearing, which began at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, lasted nearly 19 hours. As the deliberations stretched on, council members grew tired and cranky, and the audience became raucous enough that Council Chair Jay Furfaro threatened to evict members of the audience if they didn't settle down following the testimony of Mayor Bernard Carvalho.

But the excitement of Kauai residents was clear well before the hearing even began. Some camped out overnight on the lawn in front of the Kauai County Building to make sure they would have a seat in the small, upstairs hearing room.

Supporters of the bill erupted in celebration of the vote, which came at 3:35 a.m., following the culmination of a hearing in which about 100 people argued for one side or the other. Cheers echoed inside the hearing room, while others could be heard on the front lawn where the public had remained around loudspeakers to listen to deliberations.

"To the seed companies, I want to make sure you understand that we have to envision the future for our island," said Council Chair Jay Furfaro minutes before the vote. "Your companies have your policies. But we need to envision Kauai in the future and this is a start for us."

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