IS THE STEVEN TYLER ACT DEAD?
It seems like only yesterday that Maui’s own Democratic Senator J. Kalani English captured the hearts of his colleagues with his SB465, which would criminalize the taking of photos of celebrities in the islands who were enjoying “private” moments. English called his bill “The Steven Tyler Act,” after one of the celebrities he sought to protect from the terrible paparazzi.
English’s bill sailed through the state Senate. The news media (including this paper) howled in protest, saying the bill would violate First Amendment protections and hamper news-gathering operations, but that didn’t stop the good Senators from yucking it up with Tyler and Mick Fleetwood during an early February Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee hearing on the bill (Tyler himself Tweeted at least one photo of him posing with English). On Mar. 5, 23 of the body’s 25 senators voted aye (the nays came from Republican Senator Sam Slom and Democratic Senator Les Ihara).
The Steven Tyler Act was a steamroller. Nothing, it seemed, would keep the bill from rolling through the state House of Representatives and then stopping on Governor Neil Abercrombie’s desk. Nearly everyone elected to office in the state seemed to love the idea of helping out the celebrities (testimony from proponents not-so-subtly promising that more celebs would move to Hawaii and buy expensive houses should the bill pass might have had something to do with it).
But then a curious thing happened once the bill arrived in the House. Suddenly, the momentum was gone, replaced with something approaching outright loathing. Democratic Representative Angus McKelvey (who as chairman of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee was charged with taking up the bill) explained the odds of the bill passing the House to the Associated Press:
“There is a better chance of people flapping their arms and flying from Lanai to Maui,” McKelvey said in a Mar. 22 story.
There are probably a number of reasons for this. The Senate, being a smaller body than the House, is possibly more susceptible to logrolling–the old congressional manner of trading favors to get bills passed. It’s also possible that House members, concerned over the bill’s bad press, simply decided to concentrate on matters less likely to bring negative headlines.
One thing, though, is clear: The Steven Tyler Act will rise again. Though maybe next time, English may want to name it for a celeb who looks better in a swimsuit.
THE REPORTER SHIELD LAW MIGHT DIE, TOO
Of course, all isn’t well between journalists and Hawaii’s Legislature. We in the media were quick to denounce the Steven Tyler Act as a bad bill, and clearly, it was. And now that the bill is dead, we can concentrate on our own special interest protection: HB622, which deals with the state’s Reporter Shield Law.
Right now, journalists (who write for newspapers, magazines or even blogs) have some of the strongest legal protections in the nation. But that law expires at the end of June, so HB622 started out as a way to make the law permanent. Of course, the legislative process is rarely so straightforward.
“Currently, Hawaii reporters only have to reveal their sources if there’s enough evidence that the source or protected information is critical to an investigation, a felony case or a defamation case,” Honolulu Civil Beat reported on Jan. 31. “But the bill that cleared the [House] Judiciary Committee widens the exemptions to include potential felonies or serious crimes involving injury to persons or animals. Journalists could also be compelled to produce information for any civil action—not just defamation cases.”
The watered down bill passed the House last month. After passing the first reading in the Senate on Feb. 15, that body’s Judiciary and Labor Committee took it up on Feb. 28. And there it’s sat ever since.
And this has caused some measure of alarm among us in the journalism world–mostly because Democratic Senator Clayton Hee (the committee chairman) has until April 4 to schedule a debate on the measure. If he misses that deadline, HB622 dies. And if the bill dies, the whole Reporter Shield Act dies at the end of June.
But there is hope. This morning I spoke with a staffer at the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, who said they’re working on scheduling a hearing for the bill for a Thursday, Mar. 28 hearing.
BUT ANTI-GMO PROTESTS LIVE!
If you were in Kahului on Saturday, perhaps you noticed the hundreds and hundreds (perhaps over a thousand) people from all over Hawaii who showed up for the “March in March” to protest the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. They displayed colorful shirts, signs and flags, all expressing variations on the same theme: Big Agribusiness, exemplified by Monsanto, which has operations on a variety of Hawaiian islands including Maui, needs to stop messing with our food.
For those in power, be it at the United States Congress or the Hawaii state Legislature, this is not a popular view. Witness the fate of HB174. The bill sought to require all foods sold in Hawaii to specify on the label if they contained GMOs. On Thursday, Mar. 21, citing the usual concerns over jobs and the state’s food industry, state senators killed the bill.
Any other outcome would have surprised me. Monsanto typically responds to the anti-GMO safety argument with a statement that people have been eating GMOs for 17 or so years, and so far, everything seems fine. This is a very good argument, but it misses the fundamental conceit of Monsanto.
The company sells billions of dollars worth of seeds and employs thousands of people worldwide because patent life forms. They modify the DNA of seeds, then patent those new seeds. That’s their business model–owning life forms.
Which leads to company’s loathsome practice of suing any and all farmers who dare to save any leftover Monsanto seeds after planting their crop. Once a farmer agrees to buy Monsanto seeds, he or she must buy a new batch when it comes time to plant again.
In mid-February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Bowman v. Monsanto Company, in which Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman is fighting for what he says is his right to use Monsanto’s seeds for more than one planting. Reading the actions and tones of the Supreme Court justices, New York Times reporter Adam Liptak wrote on Feb. 19 that Monsanto may be looking at “impending victory.”
The company’s whole business plan works so well because we as a society seem to be fine with them owning and patenting life forms. As long as this continues, those opposed to GMOs will have to stay in the streets to find an audience.