by Christine Stuart
Less than 24 hours after the Senate approved a bill banning genetically modified grass seed, the House found bipartisan agreement to kill it.
The bill was a top priority for outgoing Senate President Donald Williams. But House Speaker Brendan Sharkey was not sold on the idea or consulted about the bill.
In a show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans worked Thursday to defeat it by a 103-37 vote.
Following the vote, Sharkey said Williams never had a conversation with him about the legislation.
“I’ve never, ever been consulted about this bill by anyone in the Senate,” Sharkey said. “And the advocates wanted a vote on the bill, so I thought it was important to have vote and avoid the distraction that was going to inevitably occur if we kept it on our calendar.”
He said the same thing happened last year with the GMO labeling bill, which bounced back and forth between chambers before finally winning the approval of all the stakeholders.
Sharkey said he voted against the GMO grass bill because he believes there should have been a public hearing.
“It’s too important to take up and do without getting input from all those stakeholders,” Sharkey said.
Genetically modified grass isn’t on the market yet, but supporters worry about what will happen if it gets out there. Proponents of the legislation say the genetically modified grass would increase the use of glyphosate or other herbicides because it would be resistant to those herbicides.
There’s also the threat of the seed spreading and cross-pollinating with other grass species and spreading individual genes from one species to another. This could lead to an artificially modified gene spreading into the broader gene pool, with untold consequences, Williams explained Wednesday during the Senate debate.
However, opponents of the legislation say it sends a bad message to business and scientists.
“We have a bill before us that says if some business out there is even thinking — thinking — about making such a thing, don’t bother cause you ain’t gonna sell it in Connecticut,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.
Cafero thought the concept was absurd.
“It doesn’t even exist and we’re going to ban it,” Cafero said. “Put down your beakers, put down your microscopes . . . save your time, change professions, ‘cause you ain’t doing it in Connecticut. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?”
A number of lawmakers, even those who supported the bill, said they were insulted the bill wasn’t raised for a public hearing.
“I don’t know anything about the substance to feel comfortable voting on this,” Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, said.
Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said she was concerned about how the bill came to the Environment Committee, but she worries the product will be sold next year. She said she believes it could be dangerous to the environment.
“This is our one chance to make this product go away before it arrives in the state,” Mushinsky said.
Lance Latham, a spokesman for Scotts MiracleGro, which is developing a genetically engineered grass seed, said Wednesday that it won’t be on the market for another “few years.”
“They’re welcome to visit our research facilities in Ohio, talk with our scientists and see firsthand why we believe our enhanced grass seed can one day bring about significant environmental benefits,” Latham said. “They’re also welcome to visit any of our facilities in Connecticut and meet with our 260 employees who live and work in the state.”
Despite the vote in the House, Williams said he was proud of what the Senate accomplished.
“Senate Democrats — joined by three Republicans — made history by taking a stand against the chemical companies and special interests which are poised to dump tens of thousands of gallons of pesticides on lawns across Connecticut,” Williams said.
Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney called the vote a disappointment.
“The House vote today is disappointing. Despite the fact that research has extensively documented the adverse impact of poisonous chemicals on human health and the environment, all too often government ignores the precautionary principle and takes action only after harm occurs,” Looney said.
In a statement, Senate Democrats said some of those who opposed the ban complained about the process, but failed to acknowledge that the initiative was discussed at two public hearings and that dozens of experts and citizens weighed-in. Organizations such as the Sierra Club and the CT League of Conservation Voters joined regular citizens in supporting the proposal.