UPDATE (Oct. 16, 2013) – Bill 113 passed first reading today with a vote of 6 to 2. The “no” votes were Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and Greggor Ilagan. Zendo Kern was absent. In committee, Kern voted to give the bill a positive recommendation. Council Chair J Yoshimoto, who voted “no” in committee became a “yes” at Wednesday’s vote. The council will need to pass the bill at a second reading in order to send it to the mayor’s desk, where he can sign it into law, or veto it (sending it back to council where an override vote – which needs six “ayes” – could be considered). The mayor could also elect to allow the bill to become law without his signature.

KONA, Hawaii – Island residents spoke with passion at Tuesday night’s Hawaii County Council hearing. It was the first time the controversial GMO prohibition bill went before the full council, after months of discussion at the committee level.

As always, voices spoke up for and against the proposed law, introduced by Kohala councilwoman Margaret Wille. Bill 113 prohibits open air cultivation, propagation, development, or testing of genetically engineered crops and plants.

The proposed law drew lots of support from the public. Many are concerned about the spraying of herbicides and pesticides that seem to go hand in hand with farming genetically engineered crops on an industrial scale.

The papaya industry continued their opposition to the bill, even though the growing of transgenic papaya would be exempted from the law.

The Hamakua Coast seems to be emerging as a new battleground in this agricultural battle, where a crop of GMO corn is currently being grown to feed dairy cows.

The day’s discussion came with amendments – or the threat of amendments, like those drawn up by Hilo councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi. Onishi’s changes would add universities and government agencies to the exemption list, as well as flowering or ornamental plants.

For the most part, those opposed to GMOs were also opposed to Onishi’s modifications. Onishi was not there to officially introduce the amendments, however.

When it came time for council decision making, Wille had some more amendments to offer. The changes prompted a some discussion, but at that point – after a long day that had stretched past 10 o’clock at night – the councilmembers were getting a little too tired to process the details.

The discussion will be continued today after 1 pm, after the council gets through its scheduled agenda.