Co-authored by Elijah Frank, ʻOhana O Kauaʻi Director
According to Hawaii State law, each county has the "power to enact ordinances deemed necessary to protect health, life and property..." (HRS 46-1.5). Earlier this year in the form of Senate Bill 727, a quiet attempt was made at the State Capitol to simply strike the words "health" and "life," effectively stripping local government's ability to protect people and environment, and leaving intact only the mandate to safeguard private property. SB727 made it all the way through the Senate before the public and Counties caught-wind of it and flooded lawmakers with thousands of testimonies in opposition.
This anti-democratic agenda was being advanced by the chemical-GMO corporations, who lobbied strongly for it and were likely involved in its original crafting and introduction by Senator Dela Cruz, known for his allegiance to the industry and their large financial pay-offs.
Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (HCIA) -- the lobby group for Monsanto, Dow, Pioneer DuPont, Syngenta and BASF -- specifically cited in their testimony the need to stop Counties from "overstepping their kuleana," especially in pursuing "politically popular legislation." HCIA dismissed Counties' work to protect health and life as politicians pursing "higher office ambitions" and "activists pushing their personal agendas." In essence, the industry argued that local government's democratic powers to protect people needed to be removed entirely in order for "common sense to prevail over hysteria, fear mongering and intimidation." In other words: people and democracy are dumb, let our common sense private corporate interests decide what is best for you.
While the State did not explicitly join HCIA in lobbying for SB727, perhaps because it was just too outrageously anti-people and anti-democracy, most typically Abercrombie's administration has worked hand-in-hand pursuing the legislative priorities of the chemical-GMO industry. As the governor announced to HCIA at their 2011 annual conference, "I'm here lobbying you... You don't have to lobby me. You don't have to lobby Russell [Kokubun]. You don't have to lobby this administration!"
And Abercrombie has delivered on his promise. Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) Chair Russel Kokubun joined HCIA in lobbying against Counties' rights to protect people and environment in a slightly more disguised iteration of SB727, Senate Bill 590. Introduced by several senators with the dubious distinction of being on the list of top-ten most industry funded legislators, SB590 would have amended the Right to Farm Act with the words: "No law shall be enacted that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ generally accepted agricultural technology, livestock production, and ranching practices."
As Kauai County Council Chair Jay Furfaro rightly noted in testimony opposing SB590, "This statement preempts individual Counties to have little or no recourse to protect our constituents from action done by any and all agricultural businesses or individuals should the health and safety of our community be compromised."
The HDOA was also persistent in its industry-synchronized efforts to obstruct House Bill 673, which started as a comprehensive bill for pesticide reporting and investigation of health complaints, and ended as Act 105, requiring the HDOA to post on their website already existing sales records of restricted-use pesticides only. Act 105 has no start date and no specific requirements for the timing of postings. As Senator Mike Gabbard put it mildly, it is an "extremely watered down" version of the original bill, though notably the only pesticide bill to pass in many years, and one of only a few that ever got scheduled for a hearing.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Transportation joined the HDOA in attempting to derail and eventually gut HB673, reciting the same talking points as the industry: Pesticide disclosure in order to address health concerns is unnecessary and over-burdensome.
With the chemical-GMO industry attempting to gut local democracy and the protection of health and life, and the State actively supporting this agenda, fundamental rights are at stake. On Kauai, to continue to speak about industry "voluntary action" and sudden strong initiative from the State as a solution to our pesticide issues is a grave misunderstanding of the situation. While we must pressure the State to change its current course, we must also sign Bill 2491 into law so that Kauai can move forward on this first-step to knowing what is happening to our health and the life of the land.