The Often Not Very Pretty Process Of Lawmaking

The passage of Bill 2491 into law requiring the largest chemical companies in the world to disclose their pesticide use and prohibiting the use of these chemicals near Kauai schools, hospitals and homes or face criminal penalties – is a major accomplishment for our community.

Over the past few weeks, many have graciously offered me their mahalo and acknowledgement for this significant achievement.

To be clear, the credit is entirely due to our wonderful community who made this issue and the protection of health and environment their number one priority.  Individual citizens across our island made deliberate and independent decisions to engage this issue, to show up and to walk the talk.

Yes I played a key role in this effort as did Councilmember Tim Bynum. But without a focused and sustained community effort this Bill could have easily died on the vine.

Without the early and ongoing support from Council Chair Jay Furfaro, Bill 2491 might never have even seen the light of day, let alone successfully navigate and override the Mayor’s veto.

In the end, after voting twice in support Councilmember Ross Kagawa flipped his vote and came very close to derailing the entire process.  In retrospect, that early if perhaps unintended support provided important additional momentum at key moments in time.

Likewise the support of Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura and then Councilmember Nadine Nakamura was critical.  While their amendments eviscerated and weakened large sections of the Bill their votes in support of the amended version allowed the measure to remain alive with the most important pesticide disclosure provisions stronger than ever.

This is the often not very pretty process of lawmaking.  You start with what you want, you settle for what you can get and then you amend and improve at every future opportunity.

Councilmember Mason Chock coming into the process at the 11th hour commendably voted his conscience in support.  The other top contender for the position, by his own admission, would have done the same.  Council rules do not allow for an “abstention” and so barring calling in sick for the meeting, no member could have avoided that final vote even if they had wished to do so.

But really, it was the community that came together to make this happen.  It was the community who reached out to me over one year ago and asked me to introduce a measure to deal with the pesticide/gmo issue.  It was the moms and dads, the business owners and teachers, the nurses and doctors and people from all parts of our island who sent in testimony, who marched in the rain and who spent long hours in line waiting for the opportunity to testify.

I commend also those in our community who came out and expressed their views in opposition to Bill 2491.  Many were genuinely concerned about the future of their jobs and they also spent countless hours and days engaged in this process, walking the talk through the lens of their own lives and circumstances.

It is clear to me that good people, people of high integrity and strong character can look at the same facts and circumstances and come to different conclusions. There are multiple sides to every issue and this is the nature of our democracy.

Historically in democracies around the world elections and issues are more often than not decided by slim margins not large majorities. That is simply the reality of our system.

2013 was a roller coaster ride and probably the most intense and most challenging year of my life.  And it goes without saying there has been no shortage of interesting and challenging moments during the 15 years I have served Kauai in politics.

Kauai is a resilient community blessed with wonderful people, beauty and aloha. We survived together hurricane Iwa, hurricane Iniki, the Superferry, civil unions, the PLDC, marriage equality and largest economic downturn in history.  At the end of the day, Bill 2491 is merely a blip on the radar screen of our history together, an important blip I believe but a blip nonetheless.   gh

So what is next?

1) The administration via deputy county attorney Mauna Kea Trask has begun the rule-making process designed to add clarity to the implementation process which takes place 8 ½ months from now when the new law takes effect.  If for any reason this official process is not completed on time, the law nonetheless is the law and must be complied with.  Many if not most laws operate for years without official rules with the administrative department in charge simply establishing reasonable procedures that govern implementation.

2) The 2014 State legislative session opens on January 15.  The chemical companies are already meeting with legislators, hosting fundraisers and drafting legislation intended to take away the power of county governments to regulate pesticides and agricultural activity.  In 2013 they attempted to take away the County power to protect the health and life of their residents and we can expect more of the same in 2014.

3) Modest amendments will likely be proposed to further improve and tidy up the provisions contained within Bill 2491.  Because the measure does not take effect for 9 months, there is plenty of time to modify and improve the ordinance in a manner that does not elicit a strong response from either side of the issue and responds to concerns expressed by the administration.

4) The threat of a lawsuit remains however whether these chemical companies have the audacity to sue the County of Kauai for the right to spray pesticides next to schools remains to be seen.

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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