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Right-to-farm legislation wilts in state Legislature

February 6, 2014 - 7:34am

Right-to-farm legislation that could have threatened Hawaii County’s law restricting the use of transgenic crops appears to have been defeated in the state Legislature.

A Senate version failed to pass that chamber’s Agriculture Committee on Tuesday, and the chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee doesn’t expect its companion bill to be heard this session.

“I think what happened in the Senate made it clear that we just need to let things settle,” Rep. Jessica Wooley, House Agriculture chairwoman, said Wednesday. “Maybe we can determine next session if there’s any need for this legislation.”

Rep. Richard Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano, introduced the House version.

Onishi, who is vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he was disappointed the bill would not be heard but added it wouldn’t go far without the Senate’s support.

“I think unless we were in some kind of agreement with both houses hearing the bill I think it kind of doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We had a strong majority of members who signed the bill. … I think it’s disappointing we are not going to have it heard.”

The bills would have amended the state’s right-to-farm law by preventing local governments from enacting laws restricting the “right of farmers and ranchers” to use agriculture technology and other practices not prohibited by federal or state law.

That would also apply to genetically modified organisms. If adopted, the legislation would have put Hawaii and Kauai counties in conflict with state law.

Both counties enacted laws last year regulating or restricting GMO crops.

Hawaii County Councilwoman Margaret Wille said she was glad to see the Legislature put an early stop to the right-to-farm amendments.

“I am hopeful the state pre-emption bills are done,” said Wille, who introduced the county’s anti-GMO bill, which the council passed in November.

But, she said, it’s still possible the legislation could be inserted into other bills.

“It doesn’t mean there won’t be another chess move,” Wille said.

The council on Tuesday voted in favor of a resolution opposing the right-to-farm bills while meeting as the Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development.

While the bills appear to be dead for the session, other GMO-related legislation, including efforts to require labeling of GMO food products, remains alive in the Legislature.

Email Tom Callis at