House decisively defeats ban on pesticide-resistant grass seed

Hartford - The majority of Democrats and nearly all Republicans in the state House of Representatives voted Thursday against a bill that would have banned the sale and use of pesticide-resistant, genetically engineered grass seeds. The bill was defeated 103-37.

The House speaker rarely calls a bill to the floor that will be defeated, but Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said he called the bill for a vote in order to get it off the House calendar.

"I felt it would have been a distraction if we didn't act," Sharkey said.

The speaker, who also voted against the bill, said legislators and members of the public had been pushing for the bill to be called up on the floor of the House.

The Senate passed the bill, 25-11, on Wednesday night. Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, the main proponent of the bill, had said the ban was needed because pesticide-resistant grass would encourage residents to use more chemicals on their lawns because the chemicals wouldn't kill the grass.

Democrats and Republicans spoke out against the bill because it never went through a public hearing and because the product isn't on the market yet nor understood.

In a state that has struggled to create jobs and stimulate the economy, "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, because you ain't gonna sell it in Connecticut," said House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk. "What have we come to?"

Republicans brought forth an amendment that would have created a two-year temporary ban on the sale and use of the genetically engineered grass seeds and turf and required a study on the effects of the genetically modified grass seeds. Then the legislature could decide whether to permanently ban the product. The amendment failed.

State Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, who voted in favor of the ban, said he was in favor of the Republicans' two-year moratorium because there had not been a public hearing, and an all-out ban might be premature.

Other local representatives who voted in favor of the bill included state representatives Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, Elissa Wright, D-Groton, and Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford.

The product should be banned because the genetically engineered seeds could drift to organic farms and put them at a disadvantage, Urban said.

Local representatives who opposed the bill were Brian Sear, D-Canterbury, Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, Ted Moukawsher, D-Groton, and Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook.

This sends the "message that we are afraid of learning about the science that is involved, and I don't think that is the message we want to send," Sear said.

Moukawsher agreed. "I think unfortunately we have had a hysterical reaction to a product that doesn't exist," he said.

j.somers@theday.com

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