The Senate is poised to approve a ban on genetically modified grass seed in Connecticut, but House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are not sold on the idea.
Environment Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Ed Meyer said the bill is likely to be raised on the Senate floor during session Wednesday. The legislation bans genetically modified grass seeds and genetically modified landscape plants and expands restrictions on using pesticides on school grounds and other public land.
Lawmakers like Meyer and Senate President Donald Williams are seeking to prohibit plants that have been genetically modified to be resistant to a chemical called glyphosate, which is found in the popular herbicide Roundup.
The concern is that once plants can tolerate more exposure to the chemical, people will use the herbicide in greater quantities, which will hurt the environment.
Senate Democrats met behind closed doors to discuss the legislation last week.
“It needed explanation in the sense that our caucus wanted to know why it was harmful to the environment, mainly that it will induce and motivate more pesticides. After that it received a lot of support,” Meyer said.
Although it’s expected to be a lengthy debate with opposition from Senate Republicans, Meyer said the bill has enough support to pass the Senate.
It’s less clear how much support it has outside the upper chamber.
Asked about the proposal, Sharkey was apprehensive in a short statement Tuesday afternoon.
“In a short session that is supposed to focus on jobs and the economy, I’m concerned about enacting legislation this year that looks to preemptively ban a product that doesn’t yet exist without allowing the public, and experts, to weigh in,” he said.
Malloy also expressed concerns when asked about genetically modified grass at an unrelated event Tuesday.
“I’m definitely not going to eat it,” he joked.
The governor said he has followed the discussion over the legislation, but the bill has “not been at the top of my agenda.”
Malloy said he has concerns about where the ban would place Connecticut in relation to the policies of nearby states. It’s a concern his administration expressed during the debate over last year’s bill requiring the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.
Uneasiness about putting Connecticut businesses at a competitive disadvantage led to a compromise on last year’s bill. Malloy signed the legislation into law last year, but it only becomes effective if other states approve similar proposals and a population threshold is met.
Malloy pointed to that compromise when asked Tuesday about the possibility of a ban on genetically modified grass seed.
“One of the things that I always say is we have to do this in balance. We have to be aware of where we are on the issue. I don’t mind leading on some issues. It’s even okay to be ahead of people — minimum wage is one of those. But on issues of commerce and the impact on commerce, I’d like to know where we’re moving as a region or where we’re moving with other states and that was why we were able to get a good compromise on GMOs last year,” he said.
The bill has put pressure on states like Maine, Vermont, Washington, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts to “step up” and consider Connecticut’s policy, the governor said. He added that he would work on the issue with “anybody who’s got good intent.”
However, proponents of banning the genetically modified grass believe the issue is time sensitive. The grass is not yet on the market. But once it is sold and grown, some believe it will be impossible to get rid of it, even if the state implements a ban sometime in the future.
Williams, who is not seeking re-election this year, expressed those concerns at a press conference on the subject in March.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity to, in Connecticut, not fight a rearguard action after the fact, five or 10 years from now, when the consequences will be readily apparent . . . We have the ability right now to stop that in it’s tracks and that’s what we intend to do this session,” he said. “Because next session may be too late.”
On Tuesday, Meyer agreed, saying he saw the GMO labeling bill and the grass bills differently. The labeling bill pertains to consumer rights while the grass seed ban is directly aimed at reducing the use of toxic chemicals, he said.
“I don’t favor a regional approach with respect to chemicals we’ve identified as toxic. I think Connecticut has to go it’s own way to protect its residents,” he said.